Archive for May, 2019

Legislation on the School Year’s Last Days 

Monday, May 27th, 2019

End of May. Another school year is almost over including state testing and continuing conflict over ‘school choice.’ What does choice mean to U. S. Department of Education Superintendent Betsy de Vos versus to families in marginal communities?

De Vos and the Trump administration keeps promoting vouchers for school choice, but Congress and federal departments have passed legislation to assure other kinds of choice.

HR 5, the Equality Act, was passed by the House of Representatives in May 2019 to specify that equality is a protected characteristic under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for all students no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only is a student’s choice protected in education, but in public accommodation, facilities, and employment. A similar bill, S 788, is under consideration in the Senate, but it is hard to expect the majority party to choose to take up the issue.

This month the U.S. Department of Agriculture has chosen to restore payments to the Secure Rural Schools Act. These funds have been allowed to lapse and be reduced over the last several years. Since the USDA and Department of the Interior oversee forest and other public lands, and so school districts in these rural areas can’t count on taxes to provide district services in the communities. The U.S. departments covers 800 counties with 4,000 school districts, providing for 9 million students in forty states. More than restoring funds to Secure Rural Schools, the problem needs a permanent fix. Senators Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Mike Crapo (Idaho) have introduced an extension and plan to introduce legislation to create an endowment fund especially for forest land communities. Watch to see if 9 million kids will have the choice of a well-financed basic public education.

National Education Association has found that the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) which oversees schools on fourteen U. S. military installations has chosen, without negotiation, to require 24 unpaid additional hours per academic quarter for teachers and school staff to pursue professional development – read articles, write reflections, take surveys – all of which may provide useful information – but not under the mandated circumstances. The accumulated time of 96 hours out of a 180-day school year does not mean that coaching, team planning, mentoring, supervising clubs – all part of providing a well-rounded education – is now excluded. Also, teachers spend plenty of extra time helping students succeed, but they choose to do it. Originally, a flexible bank of hours with advance notice for special meetings was part of a school year agreed to by DoDEA. The Federal Education Association is researching the current action. What choices will students in those schools have now?

On May 22, 2019, the Day of Action in Washington, D.C. and around the country, three main demands were brought up at the rally in front of the Supreme Court – educational equality, adequate investment in neighborhood public schools, and swift passage of the bicameral Keep our PACT (Promise to Children and Teachers) Act, introduced again on April 11, 2019 by Senator Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Representative Susie Lee (Nevada). As teachers have read, the Trump administration has chosen to reduce Title I funds in its budget proposals. The bill will fully fund Title I and IDEA (disabilities legislation) for ten years. To understand the need, between 2005-2017 Title I, providing assistance to America’s highest need students and schools, has been underfunded $347 billion (Alliance to Reclaim Our School statistics). After the rally, buses toured two schools, one well-resourced in a predominately while neighborhood and one under-resourced, with predominately students of color.

The choice of Journey for Justice Alliance, associated with AROS, is to promote 25,000 community schools by 2025, also a project of the Schott Family Foundation.