News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
GAO: Jury Remains Out On Private Vouchers
It's too soon to draw sweeping conclusions about the academic impact of privately financed programs that provide vouchers to help needy families send their children to private schools, the General Accounting Office concludes in a recent report.
The report by Congress' investigative arm, "School Vouchers: Characteristics of Privately Funded Programs," focuses on 78 such programs operating around the country that together serve 46,000 students and provide $60 million in tuition assistance. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the ranking minority member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, requested the study.
GAO investigators say they could find only three studies—focusing on scholarship programs in Dayton, Ohio; New York City; and the District of Columbia—that met the agency's standards for scholarly rigor. Key strengths and limitations of those previously publicized studies, which have been the subject of sharp debate among education researchers, are listed in the report. ("Voucher Plans' Test Data Yield Puzzling Trends," Feb. 27, 2002.)
Based on that research, the agency concludes that parents of voucher students in all three cities were more satisfied with their children's schools than those in control groups, but that evidence of academic gains appeared mainly to be confined to African- American students in New York City.
The report also cautions that "the programs examined were relatively small in scale, therefore, the findings cannot be generalized beyond the specific programs and geographic areas where they were conducted."
New Office to Promote 'Financial Literacy'
The Department of Education and the Department of the Treasury have teamed up to help students learn early how to manage their money.
To do that, the two agencies on Oct. 3 launched an office of financial education within the Treasury Department. The Education Department also announced that a $250,000 grant would go to the Jump$tart Coalition, a Washington-based nonprofit group that promotes financial literacy, which will work on improving students' financial skills.
"One of the skills most critical to [students'] success is knowing how to manage money," said Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
The departments also released a report offering suggestions for improving students' knowledge of finance. The suggestions range from including financial education in state standards to pushing textbook publishers to include more financial education content.
—Michelle R. Davis
Department Awards School Choice Grants
The Department of Education this month issued nearly $24 million in grants for public school choice under a new federal program.
The grants are aimed at either establishing such initiatives or expanding existing ones. They were authorized under the Voluntary Public School Choice Program, part of the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.
Arkansas, Florida, and Minnesota each received grants of between $2.3 million and $2.7 million. In addition, nine school districts and the Albany, N.Y.-based Brighter Choice Charter Schools were awarded federal aid under the program.
The grants, announced Oct. 4, can be used to design the programs, publicize them, and pay for tuition transfers, among other expenses. A portion of the grants must be used to provide transportation services.
—Erik W. Robelen
Measure Would Rename Title IX For Rep. Mink
The House voted last week to rename a landmark equal-opportunity law for women and girls in honor of a deceased colleague.
Hawaii Democratic Rep. Patsy Mink was a leading backer of Title IX, which bars discrimination against women and girls at education institutions that receive federal aid. Ms. Mink, a House member for 24 years, died last month at age 74.
On Oct. 7, the House approved a resolution changing the name of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity Education Act.
The resolution calling for the change said Ms. Mink's "heroic, visionary, and tireless leadership" helped the legislation win passage. The measure also requires Senate approval.
—Michelle R. Davis
House Bill Aims to Guard Home School Privacy
A bill passed by the House last week aims to close what some have interpreted as a loophole in federal law that could make public the records of some home-schooled students, including report cards and personal data.
The issue has been of particular concern in Minnesota because state officials there ruled that state law did not provide the same privacy protections to home schoolers accorded to public school students.
Sponsored by Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., the House bill amending the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974—which stipulates that permanent school records not be made public—passed on a voice vote Oct. 7 with virtually no debate.
It has been referred to the Senate, where it will compete for time in an expiring legislative calendar packed with high-profile issues.
Vol. 22, Issue 7, Page 25