The controversial blackface and sexual assault scandals that have rocked the Virginia leadership and the drama that regularly surrounds President Donald Trump simply act as distractions, said Rep. Bobby Scott.
Those distractions lead the media and others to take their eyes off what’s vital to everyday life, particularly for African Americans, said Scott, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
The Virginia Democrat highlighted two important bills he recently spearheaded that’s received little or no attention.
His committee voted this week in favor of the Rebuild America’s School Act that would provide about $100 billion for school infrastructure and Scott and his colleagues also advanced the Paycheck Fairness Act which toughens penalties that businesses face for gender-pay disparities.
“The first thing we have to do is focus on the issues,” Scott said. “We can’t spend all of our time talking about [the scandals] and not talking about equity in education. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be able to succeed in life if denied an opportunity of an education [and] that such an opportunity is a right that must be equal for all.”
The congressman’s comments and the advancement of the Rebuild America’s School Act come as a new report revealed that white school districts receive $23 billion more in funding than non-white districts despite serving the same number of students.
The report highlighted that despite more than a half-century of integration efforts, the majority of America’s school children still attend racially concentrated school systems.
Authors of the study said that’s a reflection of the long history of segregation with policies related to everything from voting to housing that have drawn lines and divided communities.
Because the school system relies so heavily on community wealth, the gap reflects both the prosperity divide in America and the fragmented nature of school district borders, designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage, according to the report’s authors.
For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district, the report revealed.
“After the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, we turned around and funded education with the real estate tax, guaranteeing that the wealthy areas will have more resources than low-income areas,” Scott said.
Adam Clayton Powell spearheaded legislation in the 1960s that put more money into low-income areas and the Higher Education Act passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson assured that no child would be turned away from college because of poverty, Scott said.
“Then there was the Pell Grant, which assured that a child could go to any college and not incur that much debt,” he said. “You can have equity in K-12, but you’ve got to have Head Start … and we have to make sure that legacy continues.”
Scott reiterated that Americans focus needs to change from indulging in the soap opera that’s resulted from past actions of the current Virginia governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, as well as Trump.
After a hearing that resulted in the advancement of the Paycheck Fairness Act, Scott said reporters cornered him.
“Not about education or the Paycheck Fairness Act,” he said. “They wanted to know, ‘What’s up with your governor? What’s up with your lieutenant governor? What’s up with your attorney general?’ No one wanted to talk about education and labor.”
Scott said public schools in the U.S. are at a literal breaking point and noted that one estimate found that school infrastructure is shortchanged by $46 billion every year.
Reportedly, Scott’s bill has 164 co-sponsors in the House, and all of them are Democrats, although Scott said when he introduced the bill that he believes the proposal has bipartisan appeal.
The Paycheck Fairness Act removes many of the legal defenses that businesses use to claim that they aren’t discriminating and makes it unlawful for businesses to inquire about a worker’s wage history or use it as a hiring factor if they know, among other provisions.
“Even when wage discrimination is discovered, workplace rules that restrict information about wages and pay raises often keep working women from holding employers accountable for discrimination,” Scott said. “Our challenge is to try and ignore all of the distractions and do what I’ve done [getting important legislation advanced]. This is the only place you will read [newspapers of the Black Press of America] that these great things are happening because all the other news outlets will report on distractions.”