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Congress Aims for the September 30 Finish Line

Sunset sky over the US Capitol building dome in Washington DC.

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

Congress Looks to Avoid Government Shutdown after Failing to Move COVID Relief Bill

Remember your students who waited until the last minute to turn in their assignments? Well, they are all Members of Congress now! Congress will walk right up to the September 30 deadline before passing a short-term measure that will avoid a government shutdown and keep federal funding flowing.  Called a “Continuing Resolution”—or CR—the bill will be a “simple extension” to continue current levels of funding for the time being. The White House, Senate and House leadership agree that this must be passed by the deadline and a shutdown must be avoided. 

Two outstanding questions remain. The first is: What will the expiration date be for the CR?  The answer is anywhere between mid-December and March.  

The second outstanding question is what will and will not be attached to the CR? While all parties are agreeing on a “clean” CR—meaning no “poison pill” amendments—there are always what are known in Washington-speak as “anomalies.”  These are friendly changes to law, which are not supposed to be controversial. Of course, ensuring that all parties agree that something is not controversial can be a challenge. Given that passage of a COVID relief bill failed to make progress last week, there will be pressure to add COVID-related provisions to this bill.  Most anticipate that there will be no further action on a COVID relief bill until after the election in November. Stay tuned for some action on the CR next week.

House of Representatives Passes Two Civil Rights Education Bills

Led by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA), the House of Representatives passed the Strength in Diversity Act, H.R. 2639, on Tuesday by a vote of 248-167.  The bill incentivizes voluntary community efforts to integrate schools. It is an expansion of an Obama initiative that would have offered grants to help school districts develop strategies for increased school diversity. 

The second bill, which Trump advisors have urged the President to veto, is the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, H.R. 2574.  The bill would restore individual student or family rights to sue in relation to government policies under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This would reverse a 2001 Supreme Court decision that rejected the right to sue for families. The bill passed the House on Wednesday. Neither bill is expected to be considered by the Senate.

White House Attacks Race-Related Initiatives as “Divisive Anti-American Propoganda”

On September 17, President Trump announced the creation of a “1776 Commission” intended to encourage educators to teach about “the miracle of American history.”  At his announcement he attacked critical race theory and the 1619 Project. He said the Project was rewriting American history and that it has been “totally discredited”—teaching that America was founded “on the principle of oppression, not freedom.” 

Sec. DeVos supported the initiative by announcing an alternative perspective on Black American history, called the “1776 Unites Curriculum”—a direct response to the 1619 Project promoted by vocal conservatives. The project was launched by the organization 1776 Unites. The founder of the organization, Bob Woodson, has said “low income blacks are just collateral damage” in efforts to “demean and destroy the civil institutions in this country.”

In a related move, the Department of Education notified Princeton University that they are scrutinizing whether the university’s “admitted racism” indicates that it made false statements to the federal government by submitting assurances that it does not discriminate on the basis of race. Earlier this month Princeton president, Christopher Eisgruber, wrote to the University addressing efforts to combat “systemic racism” at the school.  The Trump administration is considering whether this is a violation of the Higher Education Act, which prohibits federally funded colleges from making substantial misrepresentations about their educational programs.

This campaign to challenge race-related initiatives began on September 4, when the White House issued a memo directing all federal departments and agencies to end trainings that engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce. 

A follow up internal email in the Department of Education further articulated the scrutiny that was underway. It includes internal book clubs and discussions of white privilege and materials suggesting that the United States is an inherently racist country.  Specific targets of the initiative are any material “that teaches, trains or suggests the following:

  • Virtually all White people contribute to racism or benefit from racism
  • Critical race theory
  • White privilege
  • That the United States is an inherently racist or evil country
  • That any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil
  • Anti-American propaganda

The American Association of University Professors issued a statement condemning the President’s assault on critical race theory. There will surely be more developments related to this White House attack and the response it engenders.

New Resources for Educators

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information and remember. Remember to follow me on twitter @janewestdc.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant