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Congressmen Target 'Relic of Ugly History' in Education Spending Bill

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A little-known provision buried deep in every education spending bill since at least 1974 bars school districts from using federal funding to cover the transportation costs of racially desegregating schools.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat on the House education committee, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus want it gone. 

Scott tried to introduce an amendment scrapping the language to an education spending bill currently under consideration in Congress. But the amendment was nixed by the House Rules Committee, a gatekeeper panel that decides what changes lawmakers can offer to a particular bill once it reaches the House floor.

Speaking on the floor in the early morning hours Friday, Scott said that he was he was "appalled" that the Republicans in control of the chamber chose not to allow a vote on the amendment.

He called the provision, "a relic of ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration of public of education for decades after the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education."

And he added that the resistance to integration has "worked. Schools are more segregated by race and class today than they were in 1968. The persistence of riders has no place in 2017." 

The language also has some practical problems, a Democratic aide said. For one thing, the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act explicitly allows magnet schools to use federal funds for transportation purposes. But the long-standing language in the appropriations bill overrides that new leeway.

What's more, ESSA allows districts to use federal Title I funds to allow students stuck in struggling schools to enroll in better-performing public schools and pay for transportation to get there. But districts that wanted to take  integration into account in their public school choice programs are prohibited from using federal dollars to do so thanks to the existence of these riders, the aide added. 

And the aide expressed concerns that the language prohibits districts from using federal funds to do planning around racial integration, hire lawyers to help figure out how to make it work, or even do outreach to the public on the issue.

Want to see the language for yourself? Check out page 114 - 115 of the legislation funding the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies in fiscal year 2018, which starts Sept. 30.

Scott's speech seems to be a signal that he'll be continuing to push on this issue. And he's not alone. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus whose entire state is under a desegregation order also recommended jettisoning the provision. He called the failure to strike the language a "moral failure." 

Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., a member of the Rules Committee, said the amendment wasn't put up for a vote for procedural reasons. But he noted that other changes to the broader bill proposed by Democrats would be debated. 

Watch Scott's speech here.

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