Four congressional Republicans joined U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings on Tuesday to unveil a new initiative to provide $4,000 scholarships to at-risk, K-12 youth who want to leave failing public schools for private education.
America’s Opportunity Scholarships would go to students from public schools that have failed to make progress in six years under benchmarks of the No Child Left Behind Act. Families could receive $4,000 to help offset private school tuition or $3,000 for supplemental after-school or tutoring programs.
“This is about giving low-income families whose children are stuck in low-performing schools the same opportunities as other families,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. More than six in 10 public school parents say they have transferred their child to a different school or moved to another neighborhood or district to find better education.
“This offers a way out for students whose families don’t have the money for tuition or the luxury of moving,” Alexander said.
The bill proposed by Alexander, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Sam Johnson, R-Tex., would provide $100 million as an initial down payment on these scholarships. Funds would flow competitively to states, school districts and nonprofit organizations for children attending the lowest-performing schools.
Spellings said the initiative would build on the success of a federally funded scholarship program in Washington, D.C., that provided at-risk students with funds to attend private schools. “We’ve already seen the power of choice in Washington, D.C.,” Spellings said at the news conference unveiling the initiative.
But the plan already is facing opposition from a leading House Democrat, who calls it another short-sighted attempt to push vouchers as a solution to public education’s ills.
“Washington Republicans are clearly just trotting out the same tired old vouchers gimmick to try and divert attention away from their plan to slash billions of dollars from key education programs and away from their failure to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Law,” says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the Committee for Education and the Workforce.
Miller sys the GOP instead should increase federal investments in teacher quality and classroom construction and provide full funding of NCLB initiatives.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1,065 public schools were in need of restructuring during the 2004-2005 school year. Preliminary estimates for the 2005-2006 year show that another 1,000 schools may join that list.
— By Charles Dervarics
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“another political ploy”
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