- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Courtesy of the November elections, black lawmakers have an unprecedented opportunity to do the right thing.

America’s public schools, especially in the urban areas that most members of the Congressional Black Caucus hail from, are in need of reform. And I don’t mean change for change’s sake, or a larger infusion of federal dollars. “Full funding” is a hoax.

What America’s public schools need are less federal intrusion and a dogged legislative determination from the beneficiaries of the civil rights movement to scrap social policies that paint our children as victims.

Keep the faith, as Adam Clayton Powell would say.

The Congressional Black Congress announced this week its new leadership for the 110th legislative session, and, coupled with the House Democratic leadership changes, black lawmakers will become powerbrokers on every level of the House. The caucus will be 42 members strong come January — its largest since its 1969 conception by Charlie Diggs as the Democratic Select Committee. The numbers alone should be an encouraging sign.

The official announcement of the caucus agenda isn’t scheduled until January, and that’s not because the black lawmakers are playing things close to the vest. Indeed, where the black caucus stands on issues is an open book.

They call themselves the “conscience of Congress” and represent the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Where that consciousness will lead black America over the next several years is anyone’s guess. So I say this: Now is time for all black Democrats to come to the aid of the children. It’s time for the Congressional Black Caucus to collectively pull up their breeches and get down to the serious business of making sure that black children are educated.

The caucus has talked for years about bridging the academic gap between white and black children. Lawmakers, including those in the Senate, have repeated the rhetoric for so long they’re begun to sound like Adam Powell and Lyndon Johnson.

I’m not going to repeat their yakking. I’m going to remind you of the unadulterated truth about black kids: Through no fault of their own, they ain’t educated.

The miseducation of black Americans means:

Unemployment and underemployment.

Uninsured and underinsured.

Skyrocketing special-education enrollments.

Generational cycles of pregnancy, abortion, HIV/AIDS, unchecked chronic illnesses, substance abuse.

Graduating criminal behavior.

Congress’ answer to those problems always remains the same. Whether the president was Republican or Democrat, federal lawmakers would throw more federal money into the pot.

Education is the perfect example. When the leaders of the black caucus were in grade school, there was no U.S. Department of Education, and look where their fine public educations got them. When Charlie Diggs, John Conyers, Charlie Rangel and others first convened what is now the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971, there was no U.S. Department of Education. Most education policy prior to the Carter administration was vested in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Social Security isn’t the only Democratic institution that’s threatening the health, education and welfare of future generations.

The red tape regarding federal, state and local education policy has become incredibly entangled. No presidential aspirant would dare stand up and say, “Let’s undo what Jimmy Carter did and get rid of the Education Department.” The most famous Republican who did, Ronald Reagan, rest his soul, was told, “Hush now. People will start to take you seriously. The lobbies that support our other agenda have already set up shop on K Street.”

I can’t think of one red-blooded lawmaker on either side of the aisle who is willing to admit that Congress messed up. And shame, shame, shame on the Republicans for not having the moral spine to do anything about it, other than more lip service.

Indeed, has anyone noticed the downward spiral of black students since the creation of the Education Department? Has anyone noticed that as the department has grown and created more bureaucratic busy work that the states and localities have had to grow, too?

It now takes 4,500 employees to run the Education Department and believe me when I say that superintendents, chancellors, commissioners and other schools chiefs will be sure that their administrations mirror the federal government’s as closely as possible — all in the name of the almighty federal dollar.

Our schools have become sucklings. We’ve got to pull them loose.

When the 110th Congress convenes in January, two of its founders, Charlie Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan, will be poised to be seated as committee chairmen. Other caucus members will chair subcommittees and work with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will be obligated to turn toward 2008 prospects. Don’t expect the Democratic Party, which long has taken black America for granted, to actually gin up policies that improve the real misfortunes of black America.

Mr. Rangel and Mr. Conyers dug for dues to pay the Democrats for so many decades until they wore holes in the pockets of their breeches. This new threshold for them and other black lawmakers shows potential, and I’ll try to keep the faith that the Congressional Black Caucus will rise to the occasion.

Education, not reparations, should be at the top of the must-do list.

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