The Obama administration played the race card Tuesday in its education funding dispute with House Republicans, accusing the GOP of cutting money for mostly black and Hispanic school districts.
“The largest school districts with the highest concentration of black and Hispanic students could lose nearly $3 billion in federal funding,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “I’m not sure what problem Republicans are trying to solve by moving money away from the districts that need it the most to wealthier districts that already have more resources.”
Mr. Duncan said the funding fight “is not just about education, it’s about civil rights.”
“It’s like reverse Robin Hood,” he said of the GOP plan. “You’re stealing from the poor to give to the rich.”
The House will vote this week on the Student Access Act, a K-12 education bill that sponsors say will repeal ineffective federal education standards and give states more flexibility to implement reforms. Rep. Todd Rokita, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee on early childhood, elementary, and secondary education, said the legislation will “help all children, regardless of background or ZIP code, receive an excellent education.”
Mr. Rokita said U.S. students rank 20th in the world in science and 27th in math, and said Americans shouldn’t settle for the status quo.
“The Student Success Act will downsize the bureaucracy at the U.S. Department of Education by eliminating nearly 70 ineffective, duplicative, and unnecessary federal programs, reduce the department’s staff accordingly, and replace this confusing maze of programs with a Local Academic Flexible Grant, providing states and school districts the flexibility they need to promote innovative reforms tailored to their unique student populations,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner.
But the administration released its own estimates Tuesday showing that the legislation would impose the heaviest cuts over the next six years on “the largest 33 school districts with high concentrations of black and Hispanic students.”
Among the hardest-hit districts would be Baltimore and Prince George’s County in Maryland.
“Philadelphia city school district — which is 55 percent black, could lose $412 million,” the Education Department said in its statement.
“Shelby County schools in Tennessee — which is 81 percent black, could lose $114 million.”
Mr. Duncan said negotiations with House Republicans haven’t made progress.
“I’ve not seen a serious effort to work in a bipartisan way,” Mr. Duncan said. “There’s been no effort to compromise.”
The full House is expected to vote on the bill Friday. At issue is a Republican initiative called “Title I portability,” which would allow federal aid for poor students to go to any school where a child is enrolled.
Currently, Title I aid is allocated by a formula that sends most of the money to school districts with high percentages of low-income students. The administration and congressional Democrats say the change would drain needed funds from large urban school districts. Detroit would lose $265 million during the next six years, according to the Education Department’s analysis. The Los Angeles school district would lose about $782 million; its students are 74 percent Hispanic and 31 percent poor.
House Education Committee Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican, has accused the White House of using “scare tactics” to kill education reform as policymakers try to devise a replacement for the No Child Left Behind law that expired in 2007.