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Congressional Black Caucus gives lessons in education funding – appealing to the people’s consciousness on the issue of educational funding

All eyes were front and center as the new teacher, dressed in school colors, walked to the head of a world history class at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. With a no-nonsense attitude and a brief acknowledgment that Dunbar was indeed her alma mater, the teacher launched into a discussion–complete with charts and graphs for every student on federal funding for education.

The teacher was District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and her visit was duplicated in several cities by Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members who went back to school on October 23 to high-light support for national education funding.


The event, held in conjunction with the National Commission for African American Education,was proposed by Congressman Major Owens (D-N.Y.) at the 1995 CBC Education Braintrust. It is a response to proposals to eliminate the Education Department (ED) and reduce federal funding for education by an unprecedented $3.7 billion.


“Never before in the history of education funding has Congress posted a bill that gave less money to education,” Norton told her class. The final appropriations bill lopped $455 million off the education budget for fiscal year 1996. “That final bill robbed the young people in the District of Columbia,” Norton said.


“This fiscal year, education programs fared better and were increased by over $3.5 billion overall. Programs like Goals 2000 and Perkins loans — both having been proposed for elimination in the U.S. House of Representatives — were funded at $491 million and $158 million respectively. Pell grants were funded at an all-time high of more than $6.4 billion.


Owens, who spent National Education Funding Support Day touring schools in Brooklyn, took some credit for the budget increase. He also said education and other issues that have come under conservative attack are being saved from the budget axe by “appealing to the American people and making them pay attention to the issues that relate to their lives.”


“As a member of the [Economic and] Educational Opportunities Committee, I started the fight against cutting the school lunch program. This was the first big resistance to the Republican blitzkrieg,” Owens said.


Election-year politics also played a role in the relatively speedy passage of the fiscal year 1997 budget. In 1995, stalled budget negotiations shut down the government several times. Norton told Dunbar students, “That was a terrible thing to do –and it will probably never happen again, because the folks who did this got punished when they went home.”


But election-year campaigning may have undermined the second annual National Education Funding Support Day. The event — “From Rhetoric to Action” — was supposed to have included members of Congress in twenty-four cities across the county. However, only a handful participated, including:


Congressman Harold For (D-Tenn.) who was slated to address students at two schools in Memphis;


Representatives from the offices of Democratic Illinois Congressmen Bobby Rush and Jesse Jackson, Jr., who were scheduled to meet with students at schools in Chicago;


Congresswoman Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) who established an Ad Hoc Committee for National Education Funding Support Day and scheduled rally for students, elected officials and area school principals in Miami.


Congressman Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.), who was scheduled to donate books to Birmingham schools;


Norton, who announced a citywide “Free Books to Go” program that will give District public and private schools and non-profit institutions access to books at the Library of Congress, and a “D.C. Students to the Capitol” program to arrange tours of the Capitol for D.C. school children; and

Owens, who also announced the establishment of “Net Watch,” a volunteer effort to wire Central Brooklyn schools for telecommunications services.


Despite the low participation, Owens said he was delighted with the members of Congress who got involved. “We took some giant steps beyond last year and we’re on target. These things take time to get established,” he said.


However, Owens said he would like African-American politicians step up their efforts at getting more federal funds for innner city schools.


“No matter how far we’ve come, we are continuing to fall behind,” he said. “Our leadership is lacking is being aggressive is getting our fair share.” Norton, however, is questioning how the D.C. government — whose public school system has been plagued in recent years by a number of issues, including faulty school buildings — spends its share of funding.


Instructing students to turn to a page in her handout that showed the District ranking near the top nationwide in the amount of money it spends per public school pupil per school year, Norton wondered aloud, “Where is this money going? It makes my jaw hard every day in the Congress because when I asked for more money, they showed me this figure.”


As for eliminating the Department of Education: “Forget it,” said Owens. “I don’t care what happens on November 5, you’re not going to hear any talk of that kind again. Polls continue to show that people support education programs and I predict there will be a more bi-partisan support for education funding and we will see the golden year of education in terms of aid and involvement.”


Holmes echoed Owens. “The only way that could happen is if we got a Republican president.” And even then, she said, “There is enough commitment to education and the department to at least stop it in the Senate. They [may] want [the elimination of the Education Department], but I don’t think they’re going to get it.”


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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