By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Virginia Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott has always advocated for a fair and equitable education for all students.
When he helped spearhead the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Scott had civil rights in mind. ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind law, which amplified the federal government’s role in U.S. classrooms. No Child Left Behind launched a national system that judged schools based on math and reading test scores and required them to raise scores every year or face escalating penalties.
“Fifty years ago, Congress originally passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to help make that right a reality,” said Scott, the chair of the Committee on Education and Labor. “The Every Student Succeeds Act honors the civil rights legacy of that law,” he said.
Similar to ESSA, No Child Left Behind was crafted and passed with strong bipartisan support. However, over time, its testing-centric accountability structure became widely seen as overly punitive.
Despite the Trump administration’s callousness toward a fair and equal education for all regardless of their race or background. Scott has remained vigilant about ESSA and education’s role in transforming communities.
In recognition of his unwavering dedication, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) presented him with the 2019 NNPA National Leadership Award for his outstanding contributions and courageous leadership in the field of education.
The ceremony took place on September 12th in Washington, DC at 7 p.m. In addition to Representative Scott, the NNPA recognized seven other dynamic leaders over the course of the evening.
The 2019 honorees were the Honorable Karen Bass, U.S. Representative (D-CA); the Honorable Elijah E. Cummings, U.S. Representative (D-MD); the Honorable Bobby Scott, U.S. Representative (D-VA); the Honorable Bennie Thompson, U.S. Representative (D-MS); Ray Curry, Secretary-Treasurer of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture (UAW); Shani W. Hosten, Vice President Multicultural Leadership, AARP; Dr. Kim Smith-Whitley, Clinical Director of Hematology and Director of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP); and Crystal Windham, Director, Cadillac Interior Design, General Motors.
The NNPA’s National Leadership Awards are an annual event that coincides with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference. This year, the National Leadership Awards are supported by NNPA’s corporate partners and sponsors, including General Motors; RAI Services Company; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Pfizer, Inc.
NNPA’s corporate sponsors include Toyota; Ford Motor Co., AARP; Northrop Grumman; Wells Fargo; Volkswagen; UAW; API; Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts; Comcast NBC Universal; U.S. Census; CBCF Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; Koch Industries; Ascension; and AmeriHealth.
A U.S. Army Veteran, Scott was born in Washington, D.C. in 1947.
He has represented Virginia’s third congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993.
Before Congress, Scott served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1978 to 1983 and in Virginia’s State Senate from 1983 to 1993.
During his tenure in the Virginia General Assembly, Scott successfully sponsored laws critical to Virginians in education, employment, health care, social services, economic development, crime prevention, and consumer protection.
His legislative successes in the state legislature included laws that increased Virginia’s minimum wage.
Scott created the Governor’s Employment and Training Council and improved health care benefits for women, infants, and children.
In Congress, as part of his efforts to provide universal health care, Scott sought to ensure that millions of uninsured children have access to comprehensive health care services.
The congressman has the distinction of being the first African-American elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia since Reconstruction and only the second African-American from elected to Congress by Virginians in state’s history.
Having a maternal grandfather of Filipino ancestry also gives him the distinction of being the first American with Filipino ancestry to serve as a voting member of Congress.
Throughout his service, Scott has championed early childhood education.
He’s often cited research that shows early childhood education during a child’s formative years as being critical to brain development.
“Participating in high-quality early childhood education is critical for children,” Scott said. “Doing so lessens the chances they will be involved in the criminal justice system, violence, or illegal drugs,” he said.
Scott is the lead sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act.
The measure is a comprehensive early learning and childcare bill that ensures affordable and high-quality childcare for working-class families and those living paycheck to paycheck.
“If we are going to prepare our country’s youth for their future properly, we must ensure that we are giving them the fundamental tools necessary to grow into skillful and productive members of the workforce, starting from the beginning of childhood,” Scott said in a recent interview with NNPA Newswire.
Earlier this year, Scott’s committee voted in favor of the Rebuild America’s School Act, a bill that would provide about $100 billion for school infrastructure.
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. We can’t spend all of our time talking about [the scandals] and not talking about equity in education,” Scott said.
“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; that such an opportunity is a right that must be equal for all,” he said.
The bill seeks to help minority students overcome some of the many disadvantages they face.
Much of which was spelled out in a 2019 report that revealed white school districts receive $23 billion more in funding than non-white districts despite serving the same number of students.
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.
The system is designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage, according to the authors of the 2019 education report.
For every student enrolled, the average non-white 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 he’s poor,” Scott said.
“Then there was the Pell Grant which assured that a child could go to any college and not incur that much debt. You can have equity in K-12, but you’ve got to have Head Start … and we have to make sure that legacy continues,” he said.
Scott said public schools in the U.S. are at a critical breaking point and noted that one estimate found that school infrastructure is shortchanged by $46 billion every year.
The Paycheck Fairness Act removes many of the legal defenses that businesses use to claim that they aren’t discriminating.
It 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.