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House Panel Takes A Look at School Choice, Parent Triggers

By Alyson Klein — May 16, 2012 2 min read
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Parent trigger laws have gotten a lot of attention lately—and they’re about to get even more when the Hollywood version comes out later this year.

So today, the House subcommittee that oversees K-12 education got in on the act, exploring parent triggers, plus long-standing, oft-debated choice options for parents, including charter schools and school vouchers.

Notably, the panel, which is lead by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican whose home state of California is one of seven states with parent-trigger laws on the books, didn’t appear to be looking for a federal solution as much as he was seeking to highlight and encourage what he sees as good practices at the state and local level.

“The fight to improve our nation’s education system cannot happen in Washington, D.C., alone,” Hunter said. “It is critical states continue to lead the charge by engaging parents and providing options in the local education system.” Read Hunter’s full statement here.

That’s in keeping with the philosophy of the new, more conservative majority in the House of Representatives, which wants to keep the lid on the federal role in education. In fact, Hunter introduced a bill that would scrap the Parent Information Resource Centers, among more than 40 other programs. The program was eventually put back in during committee consideration of the legislation, which never made it to the floor.

State parent-trigger laws have gotten bipartisan support. Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat and ranking member of the committee, put out a statement earlier this year touting his support for them.

Not surprisingly, other policies—particularly vouchers—were much more controversial. Kevin Chavous, a senior advisor at the American Federation for Children, talked up vouchers, including the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the Louisiana Scholarships for Educational Excellence, and of course, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which supporters worry is on thin budget ice right now.

But Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, the top Democrat on the panel, said vouchers and charters can’t be the solution for everyone.

“Parent engagement is about more than school choice,” he said. “Efforts to increase the availability of charter schools or to expand voucher programs are not guaranteed to result in stronger parent engagement or increased student outcomes. Charter schools are not real choice for most families around the country. They operate in only 40 states and are often located solely in urban school districts. Vouchers divert funding away from public schools and have failed to demonstrate an increase in parent engagement or student achievement.”

Vouchers will probably be back in the mix for debate during the presidential campaign. Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has a lot true-blue choice fans among his long roster of advisers. Romney’s platform will almost certainly include something about school choice. The question may be how much of a role the feds should have in encouraging it. Will he just be for an expansion of DC vouchers, like Sen. John McCain was back when he ran as the Republican nominee in 2008? Or does he want to go bigger?

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