By guiding HR 2083, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, to the Floor Tuesday for passage by a voice vote, the House Republican leadership demonstrated the hollowness of the praise it heaped on local control of education when HR 5, the Student Success Act, passed in the House three months earlier.
The nice sounding but ominous in consequences Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act presents serious federalism, constitutional, and individual liberty concerns. The legislation standardizes nationwide — and expands — school-related background check policies that states have implemented. In particular, HR 2083 mandates fingerprinting, as well as state and FBI criminal background checking, of millions of school and local or state educational agency employees. The requirements also apply to all persons who, because they work for private entities or public agencies with a school contract or agreement, have “unsupervised access” to students.
HR 2083 provides no opt-out provision for states, school districts, or any current or potential employees. Refusal to submit to any of the fingerprinting or background checks will result in being fired or refused employment. The legislation also disqualifies people who have been convicted for any of a list of crimes from the opportunity to work in any of the covered jobs despite the fact that they have served their entire court imposed punishments. This effectively creates an ex post facto punishment prohibited under the US Constitution.
Funneling all these fingerprints and background checks to the US government also helps build the databases supporting the US government’s mass spying program.
HR 2083 passed by voice vote after a chorus of praise from several Representatives, and some moderated concern expressed by Rep. Keith Ellison in the House floor debate. Indeed, the Hill writer Pete Kasperowics identified HR 2083 as part of a package of legislation “just about everyone agrees on” that House Republican leadership had scheduled for consideration after “weeks of bitter partisan fighting about spending and the debt ceiling.”
As with the PATRIOT Act and other legislation designed to expand police powers in the US and suppress local political control, HR 2083 is cleverly named to put any legislator who opposes it immediately on the defensive. “Why don’t you want to protect the children from murderers and sexual predators,” media and constituents would ask any legislator who dares to oppose the bill.
On July 19, when HR 5, the Student Success Act, passed in the House, many Republicans were singing the praise of local control of schools. Yet the Republican leadership, with the consent of the Democrat leadership, this week put HR 2083, with its one-size-fits-all US government mandates, on the House floor for passage by voice vote.
To understand the apparent shift in the Republican House leadership’s education policy goals over the last three months, it is helpful to consider what Republicans responsible for moving education legislation in the House said when HR 5 passed on July 19.
Here is what Speaker of the House John Boehner said in a press release regarding the Student Success Act the day that legislation passed in the House:
[The Student Success Act] protects local schools from new requirements and red tape, and lets school districts identify, recruit, and keep the best teachers possible.
Similarly, the Republican House leadership’s number two, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, issued a statement that day praising the Student Success Act for removing “mandates on our local schools.”
Boehner and Cantor were outdone by their fellow Republican House members Reps. John Kline and Todd Rokita, chairmen respectively of the Education and the Workforce Committee and that committee’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education. Both HR 2083 and HR 5 proceeded to the House floor via the committee. Kline (the sponsor of HR 5) and Rokita said, also on July 19, the following in their press release trumpeting the passage of the Student Success Act:
“For the first time in more than a decade, the House has approved legislation to revamp K-12 education law. This is a monumental step forward in the fight to improve the nation’s education system and ensure a brighter future for our children,” Chairman Kline said. “The Student Success Act will tear down barriers to progress and grant states and districts the freedom and flexibility they need to think bigger, innovate, and take whatever steps are necessary to raise the bar in our schools.”
“No Washington bureaucrat cares more about a child than a parent does. And no one in Washington knows what is better for an Indiana school than Indiana families do. That is why the Student Success Act puts an end to the administration’s National School Board by putting state and local school districts back in charge of their own schools,” said Rep. Rokita. “Many Hoosiers will also be pleased to know that the Student Success Act prohibits the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting Common Core, again returning accountability and standards to state and local school districts, where it belongs.”
This praise for local control in education is in sharp contrast to the talking points repeated by Republican and Democrat representatives on the House floor on Tuesday — they said HR 2083 is needed to make employee hiring and retention decisions uniform nationwide. Yet, Subcommittee Chairman Rokita made the motion to suspend the rules that began debate on HR 2083. Then, in his House floor speech during the debate, Rokita praised HR 2083 for moving education decisions from local school districts and private employers to the US government — the exact opposite of what he praised HR 5 for doing:
Despite the fact that States have varying policies intended to protect children from sexual predators in schools, the GAO determined the policies were largely inconsistent and insufficient. According to the report, States don’t consistently perform preemployment background checks, and when they do conduct these checks, they are not always fingerprinted or connected to the national criminal database.
There is widespread agreement on both sides of this aisle that more must be done to protect students. We have worked with our colleagues to advance legislation that will ensure that every school employee–from the cafeteria workers, Mr. Speaker, to the administrators, to the janitors, to the teachers, principals, and librarians–that everyone is subject to a complete background check that includes the FBI fingerprint identification system and the National Sex Offender Registry.
Why did Rokita and other Republicans responsible for moving education legislation through the House reverse their position on local control of education between July 19 and October 22? The answer is that they actually did not reverse their position, despite the fact that anyone looking at their comments logically would conclude that they had. The Republican leaders’ position on local control has remained the same: cloudy and inconsistent. They just change their rhetoric to defend the legislation they are pushing at the moment.
Rokita let the truth spill out in his House floor speech in favor of HR 2083, when he noted that a key requirement of the local control eliminating HR 2083 was also contained in HR 5 that he had heralded as enhancing local control:
H.R. 2083 will require States that receive funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to have policies and practices in place that ensure each school employee is subject to a complete national criminal background check. Mr. Speaker, a similar provision was offered by two of my colleagues and good friends, both from Pennsylvania, Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Meehan. That provision was included in the House-passed Student Success Act from last month.
The truth is HR 5 never was a bill to ensure local control over education. That was just a talking point for Republicans to use when boasting about the legislation that passed the House without any Democrat “yes” votes. HR 5 was a large, ideologically-muddled bill containing a mish-mash of changes in US government education policy, many driven by special interests in search of easy financial gain.
Among its provisions limiting local control of education, HR 5 consolidated US government power over schools to benefit the military-industrial complex. As explained in a memorandum produced by the Republican majority of Kline’s House Education and the Workforce Committee for the HR 5 floor debate, “The [Student Success Act] improves the military recruiting provisions in current law by ensuring recruiters have the same access to high schools as colleges and universities.”
HR 5 has been referred to the US Senate where it can be ignored. Now the House leadership, Republican and Democrat, have stepped away from partisan theatrics to advance their shared education agenda, exemplified by HR 2083, that can gain passage in the Senate and acceptance from President Obama. That agenda is not concerned with rhetorical flourishes about local control. Instead, it is focused on goals including strengthening and expanding the police, surveillance, and military interventionist activities of the US government.