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What constitutes a “War on Women?” Is it the daily headlines about attacks on reproductive rights? Or is it more than that? Working at a women’s rights organization, especially one that works on many issues, I can tell you right now that the “War on Women” has many fronts. Some are in the headlines, and some are a bit under the radar. This post is dedicated to what is happening on the education front – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good:

  • Wish I had something to put here. Until I do, here is a smiley face :) Enjoy! At least we can always look to the advancements women have made in education over the last 40 years due to Title IX.

The Bad and the Ugly:

  • In July we reported that the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved (H.R. 2445), the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which would erect yet another barrier for at risk boys and girls by allowing federal funds targeted for specific low-income children to be used interchangeably by States, cutting many of the strings attached to targeted funding. Sounds good right? Who likes strings? The big red flag here is that states can shift funds away from the students who need it most – disadvantaged boys and girls in jeopardy – to a slush fund with less accountability.
  • Another bill on the table, the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (H.R. 1891), would cut in half the number of programs authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Many of the programs targeted by the bill address critical student needs and educational goals that remain unmet even under current funding levels , including programs  that  provide at-risk girls an opportunity to excel academically and promote their mental and physical well-being. Simply cutting these programs  that are purportedly "duplicative" without replacing their funding through other streams does nothing to address students’ unmet needs in these areas.  What’s on the chopping block of particular interest to women and girls? The Center is particularly concerned with the bill’s elimination of the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA). WEEA aims to help schools and districts fully implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and to ensure educational equity for women and girls, especially those who face multiple forms of discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and/or limited English proficiency. Elimination of WEEA is, therefore, a step in the wrong direction in our nation’s commitment to gender equity in education.
  • And on the charter school front, The Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 2218) is at odds with existing civil rights requirements and fails to ensure that charter schools are accountable for their civil rights records. H.R. 2218 requires that grant applicants offer assurances only as to compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which fails to identify the complete list of civil rights statutory obligations.  In so doing, the bill threatens to give charter schools, authorizers, and grant recipients the false impression that other civil rights statutes, including Title IX, do not apply to them. In addition, H.R. 2218 would permit federal funding for charter schools’ expansion or replication without requiring that such schools have a positive civil rights record and a demonstrated history of narrowing achievement gaps.

To make things worse, these bills come on the heels of the dozens of regulations during the Bush administration that rolled back Title IX protections.

So what’s the big picture? Under the guise of “local control”, “flexibility” and “cutting red tape” the House bills move education of vulnerable populations, including women and girls, in the wrong direction.

What should be happening?

Instead of undercutting education for vulnerable populations, Congress should focus on reauthorizing ESEA that promotes transparency, narrows the achievement gap, and ensures high educational standards for all students.  Then we could add a big bullet to the “Good” section of this post and move education in the right direction.

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Cross posted from the National Women Law Center blog.

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