Home > Uncategorized > Trump XIII – Jeff Sessions’ Selection as AG Will Undo Decades of Efforts to Promote Equal Opportunity for All

Trump XIII – Jeff Sessions’ Selection as AG Will Undo Decades of Efforts to Promote Equal Opportunity for All

James DeVinne’s recent post in yesterday’s Occupy Democrats blog offered a disheartening analysis of the public education record of President-elect Trump’s nominee Jeff Sessions. While Occupy Democrats is unarguably biased in its reporting, it did not have to dig very deeply to find a host of disturbing reports about Mr. Sessions record as Alabama’s Attorney General nor his public statements on issues that would affect public education.

As was widely reported when Mr. Trump nominated Jeff Sessions, his nomination to be Federal Judge was rejected by his own party in 1986 when various incidents of outright racism were brought to light at that time. Among the incidents cited at the time he was nominated was his unsuccessful effort to charge three civil rights workers who’d helped boost black voting registration in Alabama with voter fraud in the early 1980s… an issue the current Attorney General has addressed in the opposite fashion over the past eight years and an issue that is likely to rear its head in the coming four years.

My concerns about Mr. Sessions, though, are not purely political. They have to do with his perspectives on education for handicapped children and funding for public schools. In a lengthy speech bemoaning the regulations that strangle public education, he specifically cited those that supposedly limit the ability of teachers to discipline students in their classrooms. The Occupy Democrats article included a link to The Daily Kos which included this direct quote from Sessions’ speech:

… we have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely.

Teachers I have been talking to have shared stories with me. I have been in 15 schools around Alabama this year. I have talked to them about a lot of subjects. I ask them about this subject in every school I go to, and I am told in every school that this is a major problem for them. In fact, it may be the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.

The “complex system” he referenced in the speech was the one associated with special education, a law that requires a free and appropriate education for all children in the least restrictive environment. Prior to the passage of that law, students who were severely handicapped were often warehoused in facilities that separated them from other children. Students with milder handicaps were often undiagnosed and left behind in school or forced to find ways to accommodate on their own. If their parents were affluent they could often get tutoring paid for by their parents. Otherwise, they often dropped out altogether or created discipline problems that led to their expulsion. Having led public school districts for 29 years and consulted for five years since retiring I know that educating children with special needs is complicated and is expensive. But I also know that it provides support for roughly 15% of the population that would otherwise fail in school. Leaving roughly one-seventh of the children behind would not only be a moral problem, it would also be an economic one. It is far easier and economic to provide intervention at an early age than to treat these failed students when they become adults.

Worse than his identification of educating handicapped children as potentially “…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” was Mr. Sessions reaction to a lawsuit brought on behalf of the parents of those children in 30 of the poorest districts in Alabama. Here’s a summary of Mr. Sessions reaction to that lawsuit as reported in the NYTimes: 

Nearly 30 of Alabama’s poorest school districts, with support from disability rights groups, civil rights organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against the state. The most vocal critics of school reform, including the far-right activist Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, warned that it would bring “socialism” to Alabama.

After nearly three years of litigation, Judge Eugene W. Reese of the Alabama Circuit Court found the inequitable funding unconstitutional and ordered the state to come up with a system to remedy the inequity.

Attorney General Sessions led the battle against the decision. He argued that Judge Reese had overreached. It was a familiar war cry on the segregationist right: An activist court was usurping the power of the state’s duly elected officials to solve the problem on their own. For the next two years, Mr. Sessions sought to discredit Judge Reese and overturn his ruling. In one of the twists of austerity budgeting in the mid-1990s, Mr. Sessions had laid off 70 lawyers in the attorney general’s office, and had to find outside counsel to handle the case. Lawyers working on contract for the office were to be paid no more than $85 per hour, but for the challenge to the equity case, the fee cap was lifted.

Mr. Sessions was lauded by fellow Republicans for his efforts. They saw funding inequities as part of the natural order of things, not as a problem to be remedied. And any remedy would entail either the redistribution of funds from wealthier to poorer districts or an increase in taxes. Both positions ran against the small-government, privatization dogma that Mr. Sessions promoted.

SO now we have a pro-privatization pro-voucher Secretary of Education paired with an Attorney General who views the regulations associated with the provision of special education as ““…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” and funding inequities as “…part of the natural order of things”. It appears that we are going to Make America Great Again by using ESSA to effectively repeal Brown vs. Board of Education and 94-142 with no effort on the part of the Attorney General to make sure that States follow federal mandates to the contrary. Maybe after three years the voters will see what they have wrought in electing Mr. Trump and realize that government WAS doing good on their behalf and doing it well despite the fact that they were starved for resources.

 

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