One Certain Consequence of Election: Federal Funding Equity Will Disappear
I went to bed at 10:00 PM last night after convincing myself that despite the uncertainty regarding a list of battleground States I would arise to find our country elected had the first woman President and, with any luck, she would have a Senate majority that might enable her to end the six years of logjams. I was wrong. The opposite has happened: we now have a nominal Republican President who will be working in tandem with an assuredly Republican Congress and I am more fearful than ever for the future of public education and especially for the disadvantaged children whose safety net is about to be tattered even further.
My concerns about equitable opportunity were validated when I read Emma Brown’s Washington Post article on the ongoing debate about ESSA regulations. The debate is over the supplant vs. supplement issue, which sounds arcane and wonky but is boiled down to these two positions:
The controversy centers on a regulation that the Education Department has proposed to implement that law. It has undergone several iterations and has yet to be finalized. But at its heart is the notion that school districts must show they are spending a roughly equivalent number of state and local dollars per pupil in high-poverty schools as in more-affluent schools.
Critics — including one of the lead authors of the law — say that Congress never intended to require school districts to meet such a test and that the Education Department is using regulations to unilaterally rewrite the law.
The Education Department says its proposed regulation would serve to fulfill the civil rights intent of the law, which was initially passed in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. And the legal analysis from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights argues that the law is ambiguous and that the Obama administration is offering a reasonable clarification of its meaning.
As Ms. Brown notes in her article, Title One has long been the bane of many districts because “…the requirements for showing compliance with the law were almost universally regarded as onerous and often counterproductive to providing students with the services they needed.” But the intent of the law was always clear to me as a teacher, Principal, and School Superintendent: the federal funds were to be used to help economically disadvantaged students in every district in the country have the same opportunities as those students in the most affluent districts in the country. But I was wrong about the election… and I may be wrong in the way I understood the intent of federal funding… or at least the intent of ESSA:
“It is unfortunate that, once again, the Department has refused to adhere to the letter and intent of the law,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and 24 other GOP Senate and House members wrote to Education Secretary John King Jr. on Friday.
The funding provision, they wrote in an eight-page letter, “has never required, nor is it intended to require, equity or fairness in the allocation of state and local education dollars.”
This much is clear to me this morning: Lamar Alexander’s perspective is going to carry the day. The era of federal funds being used to augment state and local funds is over…. and the days of a federal role in public education may not be far behind. We are living in interesting times.