WASHINGTON, April 11 (JTA) Federal funding for hate crimes prevention programs in America’s schools, in place since 1994, is in jeopardy.
Apparently, the problem is with the phrase “hate crimes.”
If those words were not used, some Republicans say, the funding might not be at risk. For some legislators, the term has become so taboo that any mention of it clouds an issue.
But supporters of the programs say the need for prevention should not be ignored.
Parents and political candidates often cite safety as a top priority for the nation’s schools, especially since last year’s Columbine High School shooting, which some have called a hate crime.
Support for prevention programs is now caught up in the larger debate on hate crimes legislation, a controversial law that would remove impediments to federal prosecution of crimes committed on the basis of race, religion, color or national origin, and would expand federal protections to crime victims who were singled out because of their sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Hate crimes prevention programs have been included in education funding bills since 1994. Since then, the Department of Education has spent millions of dollars on different initiatives across the country.
“Tens of thousands of students have been impacted by these programs,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
Lieberman said the anti-bias and hate crimes prevention programs are a “critical component” of the current law. Many educational and training programs to reduce the incidence of bias-motivated crimes have been developed and piloted in local communities nationwide.
Also in use in schools are materials that promote awareness of alternatives to violence and improve conflict resolution skills of students, teachers and administrators.
Some anti-bias materials developed or produced by the Department of Education include “Healing the Hate,” a national bias crime prevention curriculum for middle schools, and Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime, a resource guide for teachers.
The ADL received a $200,000 grant from the Department of Education to develop “Stop the Hate,” a yearlong program designed to inform school administrators about hate crimes and instruct teachers in the skills needed to combat prejudice and discrimination. The program was used in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York and Omaha.
Federal funding for the programs is intact on the Senate side because an amendment to strip the hate crimes prevention language out of the education funding bill was defeated. On the House side, however, the language has already been stripped from the proposed legislation, so it must be reintroduced.
The House Education and Workforce Committee is continuing its debate on the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act this week. Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.) plans to introduce an amendment that would restore to the Department of Education its authority to fund hate crimes prevention programs.
Scott will propose that a certain percentage of Safe and Drug Free Schools money be reserved for hate crimes prevention programs to combat prejudice and intolerance. The funding for that program accounts for about $1 billion in state grants and $20 million in national programs.
Republicans say they want a “clean” education bill and do not want the focus of the debate turning to hate crimes legislation, just as Democrat-backed gun-safety amendments to the bill have so far turned the debate toward gun control.
Terminology is important but it also causes a lot of the dispute, said Niel Wright, press secretary for Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), the Education Committee’s vice chairman.
“Hate crime sends up red flags,” Wright said. Working to fund anti-bias programs in schools but leaving out the term “hate crime” would be a positive step, he added.
Republicans are disingenuous when they say they support anti-bias programs but only object to the terminology, a Scott staffer says, because they removed all references to prejudice and discrimination in the bill as well.
Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will not support Scott’s amendment and believes the education committee is not the proper jurisdiction to discuss hate crimes.
First, there needs to be agreement on what constitutes a hate crime, said Kevin Bishop, Graham’s press secretary.
“Until we define what a hate crime is, this effort puts the cart before the horse,” he said.
Republicans have included in the proposed legislation a new section that calls for developing and implementing character education and training programs that “incorporate elements of good character, including honesty, citizenship, courage, justice, respect, personal responsibility, and trustworthiness.”
Some Republican committee members said they feel that encouraging positive behaviors is “a lot more important than highlighting negative ones,” said Dan Lara, the Education Committee’s press secretary.
Theoretically, money could be directed to hate crimes prevention programs under that provision, but the programs could have difficulty securing funding because money for anti-bias initiatives would not be mentioned specifically.
“Why not call it what it is?” Lieberman asked. “There really is a bias crime problem.”