As Americans, we champion our country as the land of opportunity – a place where all can pursue the “American Dream.” I think most Americans would agree that a tenet of that dream is a high quality education. This dream was advanced in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that provided the basis for equity in education for students of color.
But there are still many barriers to educational opportunity for disadvantaged students, including low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners. And yesterday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved H.R. 2445, the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which would erect yet another barrier for at risk boys and girls by allowing federal funds targeted for specific low-income children to be used by States for any educational purpose they choose, with no strings attached. Like a slush fund.
What does this so-called “flexibility” bill mean for millions of children? It’s not good. While the debate about the American education system, both its successes and failures, continues to wage on, one pattern is clear: wide achievement gaps persist, between rich and poor students, white students and students of color, students who have disabilities and those who do not, and native English speakers and English language learners. And of course this is no small thing: failing to educate all of our children means more poverty and less economic security. That’s not flexibility, it’s turning back the clock.
States rely on substantial federal funds to keep their local schools running. In providing this money, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational programs. To do that, Congress should reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a bill signed into law in 1965 which created comprehensive programs targeted towards underserved student populations throughout the country. Most recently called No Child Left Behind, the law has a lot of problems that need fixing, but totally shirking the federal government’s responsibility to ensure equity for all kids is not the answer. The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act is a step in the wrong direction.