Some questions:

Will Congress allow the government to shut down on September 30?
Is there any chance for another COVID relief bill before the election?
What is up with Trump's attack on anti-racism initiatives?

Washington Update, September 18, 2020


Dear Colleagues:

1. 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 are agreed 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?  There is talk that it will be in mid-December.  That would be after the election and during the lame duck session.  With chaos widely expected after the election (e.g. contested voting outcomes and procedures in multiple states including court cases), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) suggested that President Trump may decide to use this opportunity to cause a government shutdown - -assuming the election outcomes are ones he will contest, which is looking probable.  For that reason and others, some Democrats are pushing for a Continuing Resolution that will extend well into next year – perhaps even March – so that the new Congress and the new White House can finish the job.  Historically, Congress passes several CR’s.  For example they might pass one that extends to December, and then another that extends to January, and then a third that extends to March when they would finally finish the funding bills – half way through the fiscal year!  It’s happened before.

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.  Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) announced that the House will “stay in session” as long as it takes to pass a COVID relief bill.  This is generally interpreted to mean that Members of the House could be called back to Washington at any time to vote on a potential bill.   Most anticipate that there will be no further action on a COVID relief bill until after the election in November, placing it squarely in the middle of the lame duck session, where much mischief is possible! Stay tuned for some action on the CR next week. 

2. 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 which would have offered grants to help school districts develop strategies for increased school diversity.  The Trump Administration canceled the program in March 2017.  Chairman Scott said “We have a problem, and I think the problem is getting worse,” referring to a 2016 GAO report which found that the percentage of K-12 public schools with high poor Black and Latinx populations grew from 9 percent in the early 2000’s to 16% in 2013-14.   Most funds would likely go to provide technical assistance to support school systems in drafting effective desegregation plans which would withstand court challenges  A current provision of law which prohibits the use of federal funds for transportation for the purpose of desegregation would not apply to this bill.  In discussing the bill, Rep. Fudge said “Sixty-six years since the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the promise of equal access to education has yet to be realized.”

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 which rejected the right to sue for families.  The bill would create an assistant secretary at the Department of Education to investigate Title VI complaints of racial discrimination and require schools to have at least one employee responsible for carrying out the law.  Chairman Scott noted “I think it’s clear that [the Education Department] will not be aggressive in enforcing against and opposing school segregation, so the victims of discrimination essentially have no recourse….no one has standing to sue except the Department of Education.”  The bill passed the House on Wednesday.  Neither bill is expected to be considered by the Senate.

3. White House Attacks Race-Related Initiatives as "Divisive Anti-American Propaganda"

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 (a New York Times project documenting the history of slavery in America).  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 response to Trump’s attack on the 1619 Project, The Southern Poverty Law Center released a poll showing that 70% of Americans support “anti-racist education.”  Nikole Hannah-Jones, who launched the 1619 Project tweeted that “1619 is part of the national lexicon.  That cannot be undone, no matter how hard they try.”

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 which engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce.  Agencies were instructed to end the use of tax-payer funds for “divisive un-American propaganda,” which includes work related to critical race theory and white privilege.  It directed agencies to “identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert federal dollars away from these un-American propaganda training sessions.”

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 US is an inherently racist country.  Specific targets of the initiative are any material “that teaches, trains or suggests the following:

It is not clear how these initiatives would intersect with federal law that prohibits the Department of Education from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” of the nation’s schools.  In a related move on Capitol Hill, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), has introduced legislation that would prohibit federal funds from being used to teach the 1619 Project in elementary and secondary schools. 

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.

4. New Resources for Educators

Wishing you a wonderful weekend and sending prayers and to our west coast colleagues for an end to the fires.

See you on Twitter @janewestdc


Jane E. West Ph.D.
Education Policy Consultant
Cell: 202.812.9096
Twitter: @janewestdc

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