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Rep. Chaka Fattah Headshot

Fulfilling The Promise To Our Children: The Fiscal Fairness Act And The Student Bill Of Rights

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CHAKA FATTAH
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Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been vocal that education is the civil rights issue of our time. I couldn't agree more. Our country was predicated upon the fundamental idea of equality, yet in every state in the country we provide poor children less of everything we know they need to be successful.

Our ongoing attempts at closing the proverbial achievement gap through various policies and practices, while necessary and generally well intentioned, have not adequately addressed vast gaps in opportunity and resources. Left unaddressed, these gaps will continue the disparate academic outcomes we witness along racial, economic, language, and ability lines.

I will be introducing the Fiscal Fairness Act and the Student Bill of Rights Act, both of which are designed to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to address this.

Resource equity, a serious obstacle to improved student achievement, has been offered as justification for avoiding the difficult choices needed to raise student achievement and ensure students are held to the same high standard. We need advocates for equitable resources to show courageous leadership and make institutional changes to give all students a fair opportunity at success.

Stories of low-income students and students of color attending schools with ineffective teachers, inadequate and insufficient textbooks, materials and technology, and a curriculum that lacks the rigor we know is critical for success -- particularly in this ever-changing global economy -- are all too common. Simply demanding more of students, teachers and schools, without the necessary increased capacity and access to high-impact resources, will not create meaningful systemic change.

Providing a more equitable education for our children is not merely our moral imperative. This is an economic and national security necessity. In 2009, McKinsey & Co. demonstrated that the nation's current academic achievement gap is akin to a permanent economic recession. Economists have also shown that raising achievement for the nation's lowest performing students would add $2.3 trillion to GDP. Recent reports show the effect low educational attainment and the achievement gap have on the military's ability to draw on the diverse talents of American young people.

I am re-introducing the Student Bill of Rights, a bill that ensures students have access to the educational resources they need to be successful in school. Specifically, the bill focuses on access to (1) highly effective teachers, (2) rigorous curricula, (3) early childhood education, and (4) instructional materials including educational technology, all of which are essential for students to meet ambitious academic standards.

While Title I funds are intended to give schools with large numbers of low-income students the added resources they need to succeed, loopholes and weaknesses in the statute prevent these funds from effectively reaching the students they were intended to help. This is why, in addition to the Student Bill of Rights, I will be introducing the Fiscal Fairness Act.

The Fiscal Fairness Act strengthens Title I by requiring districts (1) spend at least as much per student from state and local funds in Title I schools as non-Title I schools before receiving federal dollars, (2) count and report all school-level expenditures, including actual teacher salaries, and (3) report per-pupil expenditures and make the information available to educators, parents and community members. Current law directs districts to exclude differences in teacher salaries based on years of experience. This ignores the all-too-common concentration of less experienced and lower paid teachers in high-poverty schools.

While the current economic crisis and long-ignored budgetary missteps leave local, state and federal governments facing unacceptable cuts to basic services, we know that the economy is recovering and the revenue will return. We must ensure that every dollar is spent wisely and that we are building a broad and lasting foundation for future prosperity. We must never allow economic circumstances to become an excuse for lowered expectations, however, reforms aimed at increasing student achievement will not last without a conscious effort to provide educational opportunity to all students on an equitable basis.

The Fiscal Fairness Act, and the Student Bill of Rights will help fulfill the promise that we have made to our children that anything is possible, especially when we provide them the educational tools essential for their success.

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