U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today voted against legislation that would greatly reduce federal funding for education and end the national commitment to graduate and advance students who are college and career-ready.
“Investing in our children’s education is the most important commitment we can make as a nation,” Barber said today. “I strongly support changing the one-size fits all model of today’s education policy, and making sure that our education system benefits students and ensures we are developing the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs and leaders in Arizona and across our country. I do not however support this bill which guts the investment in our children’s and our nation’s future.”
Barber continued, “I am proud that my children and I were educated in Arizona’s public school system and I cannot support legislation that I know would have a detrimental impact on our schools and on the children we entrust to them.”
Barber today voted to oppose the H.R. 5 The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which included the first major changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since No Child Left Behind was approved 12 years ago.
Barber agreed that No Child Left Behind had to be fixed. But he noted that today’s bill would cut federal support of education by more than $1 billion, eliminating support for teachers and principals.
The legislation also would weaken crucial protections for disadvantaged students, an essential concern for Barber, who had a 32-year career with the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, eventually serving as its director.
The legislation voted on today would allow students with disabilities to be taught to separate, lower standards. It also would allow funding for special populations – such as English learners, migrant students, Native students or at-risk students – to be taken away from those populations.
The legislation also would eliminate funding for after-school programs and focus solely on math and reading, without support for literacy, science, technology, art, music, P.E., or other subjects that provide a well-rounded education.
Congressman Barber also voiced concerns over an amendment added to the bill on “portability” of public school Title I funds. This amendment was opposed by many school administrators. It would assign students a per-pupil allotment that could be taken to another public school of their choosing, diluting Title I funds at the previous school. Barber said this would create more burden on our schools and be an administrative nightmare. He added, “the last thing we want is more federal bureaucracy”.
Robin Hiller, founder and executive director of Tucson-based Voices for Education, praised Barber for his opposition to the legislation.
“I appreciate Congressman Barber’s vote against this legislation. The bill would limit the amount of funds that districts can spend on class size reduction,” Hiller said. “These funds are crucial. Districts use this money to reduce class sizes because it is a researched-based, proven strategy for improving student outcomes.
“Low-income students who are in small classes outperform their peers who are in larger classes, graduate in higher numbers and are more likely to go to college,” Hiller added. “Smaller classes in kindergarten through third grade are one of the best ways to ensure equity and narrow the opportunity gap. Why would the federal government put a limit on this?”
Arizona education advocate Ann-Eve Pedersen agreed. Pedersen is president of the Arizona Education Network, a non-partisan, non-profit founded by parents in 2009 to advocate for schoolchildren.
“No Child Left Behind must be improved, but this is not the way to do it,” Pedersen said. “We must prioritize investments in education and in our children. This legislation only furthers efforts to privatize education and hurts children living in poverty, who most need thriving neighborhood schools.”
Kristel Ann Foster, a member of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, thanked Barber for voting against the legislation.
“The Student Success Bill is a great sounding title, but after a close reading of the text, it just isn't the right answer for our kids,” Foster said. “Today more than ever, the federal government must protect students from the inequities that undermine their education.
“A lack of transparency and accountability from charter schools, when compared to traditional public schools, and an even greater focus on standardized tests and punitive measurements will only dig a deeper divide among us,” Foster added. “The right answer on this test, Mr. Barber, is a NO vote. Thank you for supporting our students and our schools by voting NO on HR 5.”
The legislation also was sharply criticized by the National Education Association which said it “erodes the historical federal role in public education: targeting resources to marginalized student populations as a means of helping to ensure equity of opportunity for all students.
The bill also was opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, American Federation of Teachers, National PTA, The Education Trust, Easter Seals, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, National Center for Learning Disabilities, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and other organizations.
Barber instead voted to support an alternative piece of legislation that would provide significant investments in education, improve accountability protections for students, and ensure all students receive a high quality education. Unfortunately, it was defeated in the House.