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Cantor, Rubio, Other Key Republicans in Congress Focus on Choice

By Alyson Klein — March 13, 2013 2 min read
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Could school choice legislation be coming to a Congress—or at least to a GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives—near you?

Vouchers, which are seeing some fresh momentum in states, aren’t a new idea, politically—many Republicans in Washington have long been fans. (For instance, U.S. Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the House speaker, has long been a big champion of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.)

And now Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the second-top-banana in the House, is getting in on the act. Cantor doesn’t have a long record on K-12, but it’s clear he wants folks to see this as a big issue for him going forward. School choice played a prominent role in Cantor’s big speech to the American Enterprise Institute last month, in which he laid out his vision for the new Congress. Since then, Cantor has traveled to New Orleans and met with students who are participating in a voucher program put in place by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate). Check out local coverage here.

And this week, in a speech at Harvard University, Cantor hit the education theme yet again, especially playing up what he sees as the power of school choice:

A competitive environment, where the schools compete for the children rather than the other way around, would give every child from the inner city of Boston or New York to the streets of Los Angeles, an equal chance at a greater destiny. One of my priorities this Congress will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable. Doing so will give America the best chance of protecting tomorrow for a generation of smart and capable young people.

Why does Cantor’s enthusiasm matter? As House Majority Leader, he is the guy who gets to decide when bills go to the floor of the House. He’s already made time for job training legislation. Now he could further bolster his credentials as an education lawmaker by helping pave the way on the House floor for some K-12 bills (maybe even the super-long-stalled Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which got only GOP support in the House education committee last year).

Even more evidence that there’s momentum behind choice in the House? Recently, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn, the chairman of the House education committee, has floated the idea of having some Title I money follow kids. It’s still too early to say just how that kind of a proposal would be structured, and whether it would be a part of ESEA or some other piece of legislation.

Also, over on the Senate side, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another possible presidential 2016 contender, introduced a bill that would allow corporations and private donors to use a new tax credit to give money to organizations that give scholarship to students that want to attend private school.

Of course, while there’s bipartisan ground in education on things like charter schools (which are also a type of choice measure), a lot of educators—and their Democratic allies—worry that vouchers siphon funds from public schools.

But choice measures do seem to be a way that some high-profile GOP lawmakers are wading into K-12 policy. Will that end up helping education legislation overall by putting the issue in the spotlight? Comments section is open!