Public Advocacy

Public Advocay: Education Committee Participation and Leadership

African American participation and leadership in the standing committees of the house have enabled them to introduce and enact important legislation related to education. Their tireless efforts on  such committees as the powerful Education and Labor Committee has helped them to shape social policy and bring civil rights into the forefront of conversations about education. To understand the evolution of the ESEA is to recognize how black leaders have used their significant roles in Congressional education committees to advocate for underserved minorities and improve educational opportunities for all citizens.

Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. served on the Education and Labor Committee from 1947-1967. In 1960, he became Chair of the Committee – one of the most powerful posts held by an African American at that time. The legislation introduced by his committee served as backbone to the social agendas advanced during the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Rep. Powell used his position to push his civil rights agenda, placing him at the forefront of numerous pieces of legislation around federal education and social welfare. Known for his activism and commitment to racial equality in the House, Rep. Powell added The Powell Amendment, an anti-discrimination clause, to numerous of pieces of legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under the leadership of Rep. Powell, more than 50 pieces of legislation were passed out of the Education and Labor committee including the school lunch program, education and training for deaf students, federal aid in education, vocational training programs, minimum wage, and the ESEA.

Shortly before the ESEA was introduced in Congress, another African American joined Congress and was appointed to the Education and Labor Committee, Representative Augustus Freeman Hawkins. Rep. Hawkins served on this committee from 1963-1991. In 1984, he assumed the position as committee chairman, serving from 1984-1991 (98th- 101st Congresses). Hawkins used his role on the Education and Labor Committee to pass important education and vocational training legislation. He also fought tirelessly to increase federal funding for adult education and early childhood programs and increased educational opportunities for the economically disadvantaged. In 1988, he helped to enact the passage of the Hawkins-Stafford Act, a critical piece of school improvement legislation stipulating that only schools with demonstrated improved academic achievement would be eligible to receive federal aid. Such legislation laid the groundwork for the emphasis on federal aid and standards which would culminate in the passage of the massive reauthorization of the ESEA in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Under the leadership of Reps. Powell and Hawkins, a number of CBC members served on the Education and Labor Committee, including Representatives William Lacy Clay, Sr., George W. Collins, Louis Stokes, Shirley A. Chisholm, Harold D. Washington, Charles A. Hayes, Major R. Owens, Mervyn M. Dymally, Kwesi Mfume, Donald M. Payne and others. Rep. Owens served as chair of Education and Labor Subcommittee on Select Education and Civil Rights from 1987-1994. In this role, he advocated for federal funding to address the increasing rate of high school dropouts in the African-American community. A librarian by training, he also advocated for increased federal funding for library services in academic institutions and to strengthen colleges and universities, particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Originally assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor in 1969, Representative Clay, Sr. was active in various education committees throughout his career in Congress. He served as chair of the Committee on Economic and Education Opportunities and the Committee on Education and the Workforce during the 104th and 105th-106th Congresses, respectively. In this role, he was able to fight for the reduction of class sizes and to increase funding to disadvantaged students for college. He also worked to increase funding to HBCUs.

Representatives Clay Sr. and other CBC members including Representatives Chaka Fattah, Harold E. Ford, Jr., Major R. Owens, Donald M. Payne, Bobby C. Scott, Danny K. Davis, and Denise L. Majette were all members of the Education and Workforce Committee during the Republican-led 105th-109th Congresses (1997-2007). During this period, Rep. Scott was a strong advocate for the Individuals with Disabilities Act (1997) which sought to provide children with disabilities access to a free public education that met their particular needs. In 1998, Rep. Fattah was able to get Congressional support for a federally funded program, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program), which was designed to prepare low income students for college. Rep. Fattah was an outspoken advocate about issues related to funding for low income students. Rep. Payne is yet another CBC member known for his advocacy for students. During his service on the Education and Workforce Committee, he helped to advance Goals 2000, an initiative aimed to improve the quality of education. He also worked on the Student Loan Bill and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. During that period, these CBC members participated in the vigorous debates surrounding the 2001 reauthorization of the ESEA, No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Today, CBC members continue to play a critical role in Congressional education committees. Representatives Marcia L. Fudge and Yvette D. Clarke join Reps. Donald M. Payne, Bobby C. Scott, who have served on the Educational and Labor Committee since the 1990’s. Their work during the 111th Congress includes a focus on such issues as college affordability and accessibility and No Child Left Behind.

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