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Obama's actions on transgender bathrooms: Not leading but bullying

Here is an essay by former Pelham City, Ga., Superintendent Jim Arnold about the federal advisory on transgender students and school bathrooms.

(See what the Gwinnett school board had to say on the issue tonight.)

By  Jim Arnold

President Obama has met the law of unintended consequences. The presidential decree prohibiting public schools from discriminating against those students that self-identify as transgender by forcing them to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological gender creates a political firestorm around what was essentially a non-issue for schools.

"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said. "This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies."

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice created a tag-team to body slam schools that might resist their social engineering efforts by threatening to withhold federal funds. DOJ and Education Department officials emphasized their interpretation of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law in education, is that schools receiving federal funds may not discriminate based on a student's sex, including a student's transgender status.

I don’t think most people are concerned with the possibility of criminal behavior from the kids suffering from gender confusion. Most people are concerned with perverts that would take advantage of such a situation by intruding themselves into what has been one of mankind’s most private and gender specific moments. We all go to the bathroom, but are reluctant to talk about it or share our experiences with anyone but Mom or a doctor.

To have the president make such a declaration on behalf of the 0.2 or 0.3 percent of the population seems sort of like killing ants with B-2 bombers. You can do it, but it’s probably not the best use of the resources at your disposal.

So just how much money does Georgia get for educational purposes from the federal government, and how would schools be affected if Georgia education leaders told the president he wasn’t about to dictate who could pee where?

In 2012, Georgia received somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion from the federal government, primarily in funds from the USDOE for students with disabilities, money to assist low-income students and schools and districts, school nutrition and a few other services. In 2015 the amount was around $1.7 billion.

Those dollars have increased in relative importance for school districts over the last 15 years as state funding per student has fallen. In 2002 there were about 1.46 million students in Georgia public schools. In 2016 that number rose to over 1.75 million students. Georgia spent $15,000 per student (FTE) in 2001, but that amount has dropped to just under $8,000 per student for FY 2017. We won’t argue about the reasons for that reduction here; just remember that Gov. Nathan Deal likes austerity cuts so much he calls a reduction in those cuts “an increase in educational funding.”

Suppose that Georgia political leaders make a stand on the bathroom and the federal slice of Georgia’s educational pie gets taken away. Don’t think for a minute anybody anywhere in Georgia can expect Georgia politicians to close the Go Fish Georgia Educational Center to help make up for the loss of federal dollars or that local funds can come anywhere near making up the deficit. That means three things for every Georgia school district.

First, school breakfast and lunch programs will either close or become dependent on local or state money. In many poor areas, school breakfast and school lunch are just about the only meals a lot of kids can count on. How many of these schools continue the breakfast and lunch programs during the summer for those very reasons? A bunch.

Second, consider all the services for students with disabilities paid for with federal dollars. Most public schools in the United States indicate their students with disabilities populations at or near 13 percent of the total student population; that adds up to 227,370 Georgia kids with learning disabilities of varying types. What will happen when the money disappears? Once again, the money will have to come from local and state funds.

The third loss will come in the form of federal Title I funds. Title I funds are distributed through the GADOE “to local educational agencies and public schools with high numbers or percentages of poor children to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic content and student academic achievement standards.” These funds provide teachers, equipment and materials to low-income students, and are in addition to any funds provided by the state to help students in poverty. They also provide remedial services and after school programs in many schools.

These are the very funds the president, secretary of education and attorney general say they will cut in the name of transgender bathroom equality. The president says we need a new bathroom policy because somebody might not get to pee where they really want to, and, to enforce it, he will use the power of the federal government to take away funds that provide meals for poor kids, teachers and equipment and programs for students in poverty and money that is used to help educate students with disabilities.

To threaten to take away federal funds for the neediest of students over an issue that can best be solved at a local level is not leadership, but bullying at its basest level.  It would also be, if enforced as promised, child abuse on a national scale.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.