Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, may I offer my thanks to the chairman of the subcommittee, particularly for the very expeditious way in which he has moved my request for early consideration of the matter before us now.
I rise to request passage of H.R. 2080, a bill to amend the District of Columbia Home Rule Act in keeping with District public school charter revisions proposed by Mayor Adrian Fenty and passed by the Council of the District of Columbia.
I very much appreciate that Chairman Henry Waxman and Chairman Danny Davis considered this bill expeditiously, and the leadership has kindly granted our request for early consideration of the bill on the House floor on the suspension calendar in light of the fact that the matter before the House is not controversial.
The bill supports the District in moving on its own to correct problems in its local school system.
In fact, H.R. 2080 is before the Congress only because the current Home Rule Act now in the process of being revised requires that certain changes to the District's charter be made by Federal legislation. I stress that the underlying school reorganization involves no Federal funds and is entirely a local school issue.
However, H.R. 2080 is of major importance to the District of Columbia. And if it were possible, the city would have made these revisions effective immediately. Therefore, I am grateful to the Federal Workforce chair, Mr. Danny Davis, and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman for moving this bill as soon as possible in committee, and the subsequent movement to the House floor the very next week, the week in which we now find ourselves.
The school structure change in particular puts a heavy and unprecedented burden on the administration of a new mayor, Mayor Adrian Fenty. Many in the Congress have over the years urged changes in the D.C. public schools; and therefore, I know that the last thing Congress wants to do is get in the way or slow a difficult local school reform process.
The extra congressional level of procedure for a local school restructuring is not within the expertise of a national legislative body whose agenda is packed with urgent national concerns.
The necessity for a Member of Congress to introduce a bill for a self-governing city is an anachronism neither the Congress nor the District deserves or can afford today. I promise the Congress I will try to make this the last time the House or the Senate is requested to pass a charter bill of no concern and of little interest to the Congress of the United States.
I strongly ask that all Members support the swift passage of this bill today.
Ms. FOXX. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
I rise today in support of H.R. 2080 which will implement the District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007. The legislation was passed by a 9-2 vote by the city council on April 19 and was signed by Mayor Fenty on April 23. Because the local bill includes amendments to the Home Rule Act, Congress must pass this bill for it to be effective. I make a special note that this legislation relies solely on local funds.
Before approving the bill, the city council held over 70 hours of hearings. I commend Mayor Fenty for proposing this bold change in governance and the city council for its careful deliberation and amendments to the original proposal.
Key elements of the local bill include streamlined educational responsibility, spending controls and consolidation of functions. The legislation is also intended to resolve issues that have festered between the D.C. public school system and charter schools.
Every city and county is entitled to govern its own school system as it sees [Page: H4619]
fit, and the District of Columbia ought not to be an exception.
The challenges that have faced the city's public schools are well-known and extensively documented. Congress needs to pass this legislation promptly to ensure these reforms can be in place before school begins again next August. Changes in educational procurement are particularly important. Recent reports of failing boilers and high levels of lead in school water fountains lend a sense of urgency to this bill.
I wish the mayor and the city council well as they assume enhanced responsibility for public education. They have asked through this legislation to be held to a much higher level of accountability, and I commend them for stepping up to the plate on this core function of local government.
This does not obviate the continuing need to provide an alternative to underperforming neighborhood schools. That is why the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is so vital. Today, the program gives approximately 1,800 low-income students access to schools of their choice. Reauthorization of this excellent program, which will be required by 2008, is necessary as part of our vision to expand and improve opportunities for D.C. students.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume to close.
Mr. Speaker, H.R. 2080 repeals sections 452 and 495 of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act and permits the District of Columbia Council to establish the District of Columbia public schools as a Cabinet-level agency.
Under H.R. 2080, the mayor and the council will be held accountable for the management of the District's public schools. Section 452 describes the role and responsibilities of the mayor and council with respect to the annual budget process for the District of Columbia public school system. Section 452 provides the mayor and the council authority to establish the maximum amount of funds which will be allocated to the District of Columbia's Board of Education, but they are not allowed to change
how the funds are used for educational programs.
H.R. 2080 will eliminate section 452 and allow the mayor and council to determine the level of funding allocations that each program receives. The money for this budget is entirely local money.
Section 495 established the D.C. Board of Education. H.R. 2080 would repeal the powers of the board and gives the mayor and council authority over the District's public schools. Mayor Fenty has been seeking the authority to reform the D.C. public school system since earlier this year.
On January 5, 2007, the mayor submitted the District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007, the act, to the D.C. council for their consideration. The act transfers management and oversight authority for D.C.'s public schools to the mayor.
It transfers all State education agency responsibilities from the Board of Education to the State education office; creates an Interagency Collaboration and Services Integration Commission; establishes an Office of Ombudsman for public education; and a Public Education Facilities Management and Construction Authority.
The D.C. council has held over 70 hours of hearings and heard the testimonies of residents, teachers, students, parents and leading educational experts on the mayor's proposal. The mayor believes that giving him control of D.C. public schools will lead to a dramatic improvement in the District's school system.
The District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 passed the District of Columbia council on April 19, 2007, by a vote of 9-2. H.R. 2080 will allow the mayor to implement his initiatives to reform D.C. public schools.
Mr. Speaker, I want to commend Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton and ranking minority member, Representative Tom Davis, for introducing this legislation. It is important to note that if D.C. had home rule, this legislation would not be necessary.
I urge all my colleagues to support this legislation because, in effect, what we are really doing is giving certification, in a sense, to actions that have been taken by the District of Columbia's city council and giving them the authority to exercise responsibility for their own public school system, which is obviously the right thing to do.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.