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Est. April 5, 2002
Mar 18, 2021 - Issue 857
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There are two current debates whose outcomes will impact the lives of poor people of color: reopening schools and the filing and passage of hundreds of voter suppression bills in Republican-controlled state legislatures. Ethnic minority communities are rightfully concerned about these efforts, but a silent, more sinister initiative is being ignored.

Poor children of color are being further disadvantaged by actions in plain sight. As the aforementioned arguments continue unabated, Republican and Democratic national political leaders have taken actions to under-fund the K-12 public education of these students.

In the American Rescue Act (ARA), a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 117th United States Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, Democratic Majority Leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, quietly tucked in $2.75 billion for the support of private schools which is $800 million more than the $2.67 billion former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to include in earlier CARES legislation that the Democrats opposed and blocked.

More disturbing is that the House had only included $200 million for these schools in the legislation it sent to the Senate. Thus, it is surprising that Schumer took it upon himself to increase that amount over ten-fold. Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), who stated that private schools also deserved this public funding, aided him in this endeavor.

Her counterpart, Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers’ union, protested mightily against this massive, unilateral budget revision by contacting Schumer directly. Her plea fell on deaf ears. She recognizes that such fiscal modifications are difficult to remove in future legislation.

The parents of children of color secured Biden’s narrow margins of victory in several key states - Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin - which put him over the top. Without their votes, in these traditionally Red and Purple states, Donald Trump would have returned to office, and Biden would not have achieved the two Georgia U.S. Senate victories that enabled him to sign the ARA.

Schumer boxed-in House Democrats and forced them to sign-off on the legislation or risk the Republicans delaying its passage until after fast-approaching deadlines for the termination of existing COVID-19 relief. But this tradeoff is being carried on the backs of poor children of color, many of whom live in large urban school districts where Weingarten’s union, AFT, represents the overwhelming majority of teachers.

To date, there is very little outcry from Democratic activists, most of whom are only now becoming aware that this bait and switch occurred. As knowledge of this double-cross spreads across the progressive Democratic base, it may spell trouble for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) plans for the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election.

The question is: when are Democrats going to make the interests of its primary base of color a priority in all of their policy-making as Republicans are doing for the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo Movement, Neo-Nazis, and other right-wing extremist groups on a daily basis? Funding for K-12 public education vs. private schools was supposed to be a red line that contemporary Democrats would not cross.

By reducing the funding for those districts - via this more than a quarter trillion dollar gift to private schools - Democrats are reneging on a public commitment to their most loyal supporters. The comprehensive financial aid necessary to upgrade health and safety precautions in public schools during this once-in-a-century coronavirus pandemic is lacking.

There is a corresponding need for additional money to improve and supplement instruction for poor students who are failing in remote instruction as a function of spotty WI-FI access, lack of access to laptops, over-crowded households (because of informal homelessness), limited instruction, and students’ mental health decline due to isolation.

It is na´ve to assume that the resumption of in-person instruction will resolve the academic lag of poor students that has persisted for generations in poorly-resourced schools, broken-down school buildings that have long been ignored and that have systematically contributed to academic failure - through faulty HVAC systems, lack of instructional resources, teacher turnover, and ongoing fiscal declines.

The post-pandemic education of poor children closely resembles its pre-pandemic predecessor, and we will make no progress until we address the systemic inequalities that have been long embedded in public education. We need to make these adjustments now! Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell and BC.

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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
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