That is the crazy number of hours it took for the Education and the Workforce Committee's first markup of this Congressional session. The markup began at 10:15am on Wednesday, March 8th and ended at 2:30am on Thursday, March 9th- 16 hours. Here's me (and Malcolm on the far left) sometime after midnight. (courtesy of Congressman DeSaulnier).
Some background: A markup happens when a member of the committee has introduced a bill. It gives members a chance to comment on the bill and members are allowed to offer amendments (those are all discussed as well). This is the first step to a bill moving out of a committee and possibly moving to the House floor for an official vote.
A disclaimer: I will be talking about my experience and observations about the markup. As much as I will try to avoid making this political, the reality is what I observed was very much political. Please note that any comments here do not necessarily reflect the views of Congressman DeSaulnier or the Einstein Fellowship Program.
So why did this markup take so long? The answer starts in the bills the Republican majority introduced. The Parents Bill of Rights (H.R. 5) and Protect Women and Girls in Sports (H.R. 134) were clear attempts to discriminate against a particular subset of students. Nearly all of what was outlined in the Parents Bill of Rights is already required under federal, state and local laws, but the new requirements would have added burdens to teachers and school districts. The Protect Women and Girls in Sports bill takes aim and kids who are transgender. It is ironic that the republicans, who say they don’t want government overreach, support bills that are nothing but government overreach.
The democrats pulled a playbook from what the Republicans did when they were in the minority- amendments, a LOT of amendments. When each amendment is submitted, every committee member can take up to 5 minutes to speak. There were 30+ amendments, and about 40 committee members. Not every committee member speaks, but there were a consistent few. The goal of this strategy is two-fold, talk about how bad the current bill is while providing better solutions and slow down the process, hoping to frustrate the other side. This committee markup was essentially a game, a really frustrating game.
Education should not be partisan. Between the pandemic and our national leaders, education was relegated to a chess piece on the political playing field. That is wrong. We all should have the same goal in mind, to do what is best for students.
Its been clear since January, and it really stood out in the markup, which side of the aisle really cares about education. Of the 20 democrats who make up the Education and the Workforce Committee, at least 4 have been teachers and/or administrators, including the 2016 National Teacher of the Year (Rep. Jahana Hayes). In addition, 3 other democrats have an Einstein Fellow in their office to give them the teacher perspective. Over and over during the markup, the democrats talked about their experience (or their fellows) in the classroom and made pleas to the other side to do what is right.
There is some good news. At the end of the markup, I did see 2 republican members answer the pleas and physically move across the aisle to start conversations. If that can happen here in DC, it surely can happen in our states and districts. State and district administrators need to plug into the experience and passion our teachers have, and use it to inform state and district decisions. This isn't a game, because there is too much at stake. We should all be on the same team, working together to bring home a win for our students.