Attack on education

3/17/2017, 8:58 p.m.
The effort to repeal and replace health care insurance is generating headlines, and the attempt to investigate our 45th president’s ...
Julianne Malveaux

Julianne Malveaux

The effort to repeal and replace health care insurance is generating headlines, and the attempt to investigate our 45th president’s Russia connections is of high importance. The specious claim that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, too, has generated interest, largely because it is unprecedented for one president to accuse another of a felony, and because 45 has absolutely no proof that President Obama has done any such thing.

While President Obama, with a multimillion-dollar book deal tucked into his pocket, is living his life like it’s golden, 45 has indulged in several public tantrums, with episodic moments of calm. Too many of us have been riveted to the drama, while there is a more quiet revolution happening in Congress with the approval of the White House.

There has been an attack on education, with legislation being introduced as early as Jan. 23. That legislation, HR 610, is titled the Choices in Education Act. It would repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and would limit the authority of the Department of Education so that it should only award block grants to states. It also sets up a voucher system. If states do not comply with the rules of this legislation, they would be ineligible for block grants.

The legislation also would repeal nutritional standards for the national school breakfast and lunch programs, which were set by the No Hungry Kids Act of 2012. Schools no longer would be required, as First Lady Michelle Obama advocated, to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods at lunch. 

Are we going back to the days when President Reagan declared that ketchup should be considered a vegetable? Seems like it!

The 1965 legislation was passed as civil rights legislation, providing more opportunities to a broader range of children, including requirements to make provisions for disabled children. It requires reporting around issues like the achievement gap, bullying and underperforming schools. All of these provisions would be eliminated if HR 610 were passed.

Not to be bested by legislation that would limit the reach of the Department of Education, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., has introduced a sentence-long piece of legislation. HR 899 reads, in total, “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” Of course, Rep. Massie hasn’t put the thought into considering how things like Pell grants would be administered, or would he eliminate those, too? HBCUs are part of the education budget. What would that mean for us?  

HR 899 is co-sponsored by several of Rep. Massie’s colleagues. It speaks to a national antipathy toward education, so that even as we hunger for jobs and elected 45 so that he could “create” them, we are prepared to limit pathways to job preparation.

Even though he nominated the extremely limited Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, 45’s pre-campaign policy book advocated the elimination of the Department of Education. Is the hidden agenda to run the department into the ground to the point that elimination is the only option? One-note Betsy, with her focus on school choice, must be gratified, especially by HR 610.

The Department of Education is one of the lowest-spending government agencies. Eliminating it could save taxpayers more than $68 billion, enough perhaps to “build a wall.” Of course, 45 is finding lots of other fund sources for the wall, with proposed cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard and the State Department.

The good news about this odious proposed legislation is that it has not passed.  It has been referred to the House Education and the Workforce Committee. (Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott of Newport News is the ranking Democrat on the committee.) After being vetted by the committee, the measure also must be approved by the Senate.  

But these bills need not even come out of committee if opponents are vocal.  Check out www.edworkforce.house.gov to find out who is on this committee.  Call and write them and tell them that you support the 1965 legislation, as most recently amended, and that the Department of Education should not be eliminated.  

This is an opportunity to unleash our voices and resist Trumpism.

The writer, a former president at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., is an economist, author and founder of Economic Education.