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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Congressman's phony school reform bills


Halloween has come early this year for local Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, R-El Cajon. He's already picked out his school reformer costume ("Now is the time to fix education," North County Times, July 17). Next month he'll embark on a trick or treating campaign among friendly Tea Partiers in Congress, carrying his bag of bills to fix education.

Hunter concedes No Child Left Behind has failed to close the academic achievement gap, but his proposed solution would only widen the divide between the haves and have nots.

A closer look at the two bills he's authored, HR 1891 and HR 2218, reveals a plan to improve education by "giving local stakeholders the flexibility to do their jobs."

HR 1891 is simply a warmed over attempt to cut federal funding for schools. It's taken almost word for word from a section on education cuts in HR 408, the Spending Reduction Act of 2011, which would slash $2.5 trillion from the federal budget and is dying a slow death in committee since its introduction in the House in January.

While Hunter's name is missing from the list of HR 408 co-sponsors, his HR 1891 doubles down on the number of federal grants to schools he wants to eliminate. The bill's long title is ironic: "To repeal ineffective or unnecessary education programs in order to restore the focus of federal programs on quality elementary and secondary education programs for disadvantaged students." Rather than keeping that promise, it eliminates the very programs designed to help disadvantaged students.

Here are just three of the 42 programs Hunter calls "ineffective or unnecessary."

Early Reading First, $113 million for early childhood centers of excellence focusing on pre-reading skills for children from low-income families.

Even Start Family Literacy Program, $66 million for local family literacy projects integrating early childhood education, adult literacy, and parenting education for low-income families.

Improving Literacy Through Libraries, $19 million for buying books, up-to-date school library media resources, advanced technology, and access to school libraries during non-school hours, weekends, and summer vacations.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, HR 1891 would stop the $413 million spent on programs Hunter targets for elimination. His HR 2218 would allocate more than $1 billion over the next seven years to build charter schools that have produced no better measurable results than traditional public schools, while serving fewer low income families and students of color.

For a glimpse of Congressman Hunter's vision of the future of school reform, check out the mediocre test scores and relatively few disadvantaged students being served by North County's 18 charter schools, most of which amount to nothing more than certifying home schooling.

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