H.R. 610, the “Choices in Education Act of 2017” has as its stated purpose, “To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools”. The bill can be found at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22Hr+610%22%5D%7D&r=1
The opening lines of this bill are explosive yet are cloaked in truly boring language. Within two sentences, the bill annihilates over 50 years of education law and demotes the Secretary of Education to a paperwork job.
The first sentence is dedicated to repealing “The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965”, which is also known as ESEA. Every President has renewed ESEA since 1965 and in recent years Presidents have renamed the bill upon renewal, President Bush called the bill/law the “No Child Left Behind Act” and President Obama re-named it the “Every Student Succeeds Act”.
The Department of Education states that, “The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who believed that “full educational opportunity” should be “our first national goal.” From its inception, ESEA was a civil rights law. ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, funding for special education centers, and scholarships for low-income college students. Additionally, the law provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education” https://www.ed.gov/essa?src=rn. (For a more detailed discussion of the 1965 ESEA: http://www.rsfjournal.org/doi/full/10.7758/RSF.2015.1.3.01; To read the original 1965 bill: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-79/pdf/STATUTE-79-Pg27.pdf).
So to re-cap, H.R. 610 would repeal the ESEA which 1) has been renewed by all Presidents within the last 50 years, 2) was most recently renewed by bi-partisan effort and 3) is the bill that ensures kiddos from all backgrounds get, at least in theory, a fair shake when it comes to education.
The second sentence of the bill requires much less explaining because it succinctly states that hence forth the job of the Secretary of Education would solely be to review grant applications submitted by the states and to allocate funds.
After repealing ESEA and re-assigning the duties of the Secretary of Education, this bill moves on to proposing drastic changes to school funding. This bill would change how states receive their federal funding by shifting who is considered the recipient of federal education dollars – in essence the bill makes the parents, not the state or the school district the receiver of federal education funds.
The bill accomplishes this by making federal education dollars available to states via a block grant program – block grant programs are when the federal government gives each state a fixed dollar amount in order for the state to manage an issue or provide a service regardless of any pertinent variables. This bill would divide up education funds based on simple math – the number of federal dollars divided by the number of kids in a state equals the funding the state receives. There is no accommodation for differences between wealthy and poorer states let alone between the abilities, disabilities, needs and special needs of various children. This should not come as a great surprise since the bill puts forth that funds should be distributed, “in a manner that promotes competition and choices in education” not in a manner that promotes knowledge, growth, learning or healthy kids.
In order to receive the federal monies, each state would need to allow a child to be enrolled in any public school, private school or home-schooled program within that state (“any” is verbatim in the bill – meaning that geography is irrelevant in terms of attending school). So, if a parent enrolls his/her child in a public school then the school district receives the monies allocated for that child and if a parent enrolls his/her child in a private school or home schools the child then the parent receives the monies allocated for that child – if the child is home schooled the monies are tax exempt and the bill puts forth no standards for home schooling.
And that is the bill in terms of school funding.
With regards to the last aim of the bill, repealing a certain rule about nutrition standards… – the bill aims to abolish the nutrition standards for school breakfast & lunch programs established by President Obama and which went into effect in 2012. Detailed information on what these nutrition standards are can be found at: https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/nutrition-standards-school-meals, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cn/SP10-2012v9os2.pdf, https://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/LAC_03-06-12_0.pdf.