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President Seeks to Expand NCLB School Choice to Private Schools

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President Bush wants to expand federally mandated school choice to include private schools as part of its plan to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.

The day after the president’s State of the Union Address, in which he listed the reauthorization of the 5-year-old law as one of his top priorities, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings unveiled a proposal to reauthorize NCLB that would allow students in underperforming schools to earn credit for as much as $4,000 in tuition at private schools. The plan to reauthorize the law also would provide competitive grants for school districts to provide private school vouchers similar to the 3-year-old federal program in the District of Columbia.

“We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose someplace better,” the president said in his Jan. 23 address.

“The administration strongly believes in public education,” says the Department of Education document outlining the administration’s NCLB reauthorization plan, which was released early today. “We also believe that private schools are an important and effective alternative for many parents, especially those whose children attend chronically underperforming schools.”

To qualify for the “Promise Scholarships,” students would need to attend public schools that have failed to achieve their adequate yearly progress goals for five consecutive years. Each student who qualified would receive a voucher worth $2,500 in addition to the per-pupil allotment available to their home school. The average voucher would total $4,000, according to the Education Department proposal.

The proposal also would:

  • Require states to include their scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federally sponsored test of a large sample of U.S. students, when reporting their results of their own tests. The reporting would show how the state’s standards compare with NAEP standards, which are more challenging than those in most states.

  • Establish a new section of the federal Title I compensatory education program dedicated to retaining high school students at risk of dropping out.

  • Expand the Teacher Incentive Fund, a program that supports efforts to compensate teachers and principals based on the achievement of their students.

  • Factor student achievement in science into evaluations of schools’ adequate yearly progress, or AYP. Reading and mathematics are currently the only subjects that are used to determine AYP.
  • Democratic Opposition

    Democrats said that the choice proposal is unlikely to pass Congress—and may even jeopardize the bipartisan coalition that would be needed to garner support for NCLB reauthorization.

    The President on Education

    “Spreading opportunity and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life. Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act—preserving local control, raising standards in public schools, and holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap.

    Now the task is to build on this success, without watering down standards ... without taking control from local communities ... and without backsliding and calling it reform. We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools ... and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose something better. We must increase funds for students who struggle—and make sure these children get the special help they need. And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future, and our country is more competitive, by strengthening math and science skills. The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children—and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law.”

    “The president has proposed more of the same,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement after the president’s speech. “Once again, he proposes siphoning crucial resources from our public schools—already reeling from increased requirements and budget cuts—for a private school voucher program.”

    Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, added that he would know whether congressional Democrats and the president could work toward a compromise once the president releases his fiscal 2008 budget proposal on Feb. 5. If that plan doesn’t include a significant increase for Title I and other education programs, they doubt that they’ll be able to broker a compromise with the Republicans.

    “The task of renewing the law will be made much more difficult if the president's budget fails to provide a substantial increase in funding for schools to carry out their responsibilities under the law,” Rep. Miller said in a statement.

    In his speech, the president argued that improving educational opportunities is vital for improving economic opportunity and that reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law is an important priority for Congress this year.

    “Now the task is to build on this success, without watering down standards, without taking control from local communities, and without backsliding and calling it reform,” Mr. Bush said.

    In particular, strengthening students’ math and science skills is important to “make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future,” he added.

    Vol. 26, Issue Web only

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