WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday adopted legislation by U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge that would establish a federal grant program to promote racial and socioeconomic diversity in public schools.
The bill passed by a 248 to 167 vote, with support from all of Ohio’s Democrats along with Republicans Anthony Gonzalez of Rocky River, Dave Joyce of Bainbridge Township and Steve Stivers of Columbus.
In a speech on the House floor, Fudge, a Warrensville Heights Democrat, said her legislation would reinstate a program that former President Barack Obama’s administration adopted in 2016 to increase diversity, but was discontinued “without explanation” when President Donald Trump took office. Although Fudge’s bill does not specify the amount provided for grants, she said the Obama-era program provided $12 million.
Even though racial segregation in public schools has been illegal in the United States for more than 66 years, Fudge said the nation’s public schools are more segregated today than at any time since the 1960s. She said the average African American or Latino student attends school with a majority of children of their own race, most of whom are low-income students forced to learn in dilapidated buildings with fewer resources.
She blamed this segregation on an eroded middle class tax base that has caused “communities of color to become systemically poor,” and denied access to intergenerational wealth that comes from home ownership.
“If we fail to begin to address this issue, and this is only a beginning, then we can no longer say we agree that every child should have access to a quality education, that every child should go to a school that has the kind of equipment that they should have, that every child has internet. or broadband access, that every child has an opportunity to succeed,” Fudge said on the House floor.
The grants could be used for purposes such as studying segregation, evaluating current school policies and developing evidence-based plans to address racial and socioeconomic isolation, create or expand innovative school programs that can attract students from outside the local area and recruiting and training new teachers to support specialized schools, Fudge’s office said.
Republican opponents of the bill agreed segregated schools are bad, but called Fudge’s proposal a “top down big government mandate that would have the federal government decide how best to address the issues of racial and socioeconomic isolation in America’s schools.”
“Additional government mandates and burdensome red tape are not the answer,” argued Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who said Congress has already set up block grants that give school districts flexibility to pursue local solutions to their communities’ educational challenges. “Local and state leaders and those with their feet on the ground know how to best combat these challenges, not the federal government.”
Gonzalez, one of 21 Republicans who supported the bill, said he did so because he felt it would move the nation in the right direction.
“I think it’s a sincere and thoughtful approach to a very difficult and long standing issue,” Gonzalez said.
The bill’s Senate counterpart has been referred to its committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Its cosponsors include Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.