Time and again, I hear this refrain from teachers, families, politicians, and advocates. As Congress moves to reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal law which governs much of our K-12 education policy, it is time we remind ourselves it is, in fact, all about the children.
Our country's commitment to public education demonstrates America at its best. A high-quality public education for all children is both an economic necessity and a fundamental civil right. Every child, regardless of their background, deserves a high-quality education, a deep and engaging curriculum, and access to safe neighborhood schools with well-trained and supported teachers.
House Republicans ironically named their bill the Student Success Act, which passed out of committee earlier this month without a single vote from Democrats and will be voted on by the House of Representatives this week. This legislation takes away critical resources from students who need them the most and fails to address any mistakes made by No Child Left Behind. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, the Republican bill would drain away $159 million in federal funds from Milwaukee Public Schools over the next six years. It is hard to see how the Republican bill would help students succeed after cutting resources and support.
The bill fundamentally changes how the federal government distributes financial resources to school districts with a high concentration of poor and at-risk students. This means large districts in affluent communities that educate few low-income students would receive more resources while much-needier districts serving students living in concentrated poverty get less -- only compounding our nation's inequality problem.
These attempts to gut our education system and take vital funding away from the neediest students are even more egregious when put in the context of their true aims: dismantling the public education system our country was built on. This bill is paving the way for the privatization of education through the expansion of voucher programs like the one we have in Wisconsin. Indiana Republican Congressman Luke Messer made this perfectly clear when he offered an amendment in the Education and Workforce Committee, which explicitly allowed public funds to be used to send students to private schools. This means taking money away from our public schools to pay for a so-far failed experiment in education, which, at best, will help only a handful of children at the expense of students in the nation's poorest schools and school districts.
Public funds should be used for public education. Period.
America's schools are not just a cornerstone of our society; they are also critical democratic institutions. We've had enough of the efforts to undermine our public education, our teachers, and our kids in the classroom. In every community, we must work together to ensure our public schools endure -- and thrive -- for generations to come. Let's really make this "all about the children."
Rep. Mark Pocan represents Wisconsin's second congressional district, serving since 2013. He sits on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.