School Choice & Charters

Senate Deal Would Allow Vouchers For Tutors

By Erik W. Robelen — April 11, 2001 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Key senators and the White House have negotiated a tentative agreement on an education bill that, while it excludes a White House proposal to spend public money on private schools, would allow students in persistently failing schools to take federal dollars for private tutoring.

Senate aides said the plan would also permit a pilot version of Republicans’ proposal to allow states and districts to merge some of the largest education programs into block grants. While, overall, the education package would increase the demands on states and school districts to demonstrate improved student performance, those opting to participate in the pilot would have to meet a higher threshold. And Democrats insisted on ensuring that federal money would continue to be targeted at low-income students.

Democrats and Republicans were still negotiating late last week on some finer policy points of the package, but the biggest sticking point was Democrats’ demand that the White House agree to more education funding than President Bush has put forward, Democrats said.

“We are not going to have a deal unless we get a significant increase in funding,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the ranking Democrat on the education committee.

All this came during a week when the Senate battled over a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year. With help from several Republicans, Senate Democrats dealt a blow to the president’s agenda when they successfully decreased Mr. Bush’s proposed $1.6 trillion tax-cut plan and instead directed more money to education programs. Democrats in particular have sought this year to tie together the budget and plans for overhauling the federal role in education.

Both sides indicated late last week that a compromise could be near.

“So far, the members have pretty much reached agreement on most of the outstanding issues regarding the basic structure of the bill [and key details],” said Dan Gerstein, a spokesman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn.

“We think we’ve done a good job of getting what the president wants,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, R- N.H. But he cautioned that work was still needed. “We have an extremely constructive relationship with the other side, but we aren’t at the finish line yet,” he said.

Changes to Panel’s Bill

And Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R- Ark., promised that when the bill reached the Senate floor, he would seek to win approval of an amendment that would allow students in persistently failing public schools to use a portion of those schools’ federal Title I aid to help pay tuition at private schools.

For their part, Democrats have said they would seek amendments on the Senate floor to provide federal money for school modernization and class-size reduction if they are not in the final deal.

Overall, the plan in its current form is similar to legislation approved last month by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. That bill would consolidate some federal programs to provide more flexibility for states and districts. It also included President Bush’s proposal to require states to test students attending Title I schools each year in grades 3-8. The legislation they are debating would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the main federal law for K-12 schools.

But negotiations involving leading Republicans, Democrats, and the White House have produced several significant changes from the bill approved by the education panel.

Under the president’s education proposal, unveiled in January, parents of students in persistently failing Title I schools could take a portion of the schools’ federal dollars, matched by state funds, to attend another school, whether public or private, or to pay for tutoring. Under the tentative agreement, those funds ultimately could go to pay transportation costs to attend another public school or to pay for supplemental educational services, such as private tutoring. But Democrats have drawn a line on tuition vouchers for private schools.

“There’s going to be no [private school] voucher component to this agreement,” said Mr. Gerstein. He and other Democrats are confident that, with the Senate split 50-50, they have the votes to defeat a voucher amendment when the bill reaches the floor. That could happen as soon as the last week of April, when Congress returns from its Easter recess.

Mr. Gerstein said negotiations were still ongoing to enhance the targeting of federal aid to disadvantaged students, a top Lieberman priority.

“We are very pleased with the bipartisan dialogue,” said Lindsey Kozberg, a spokeswoman for Secretary of Education Rod Paige. On the issue of school choice, she said: “All along we have talked about an array of choice [options]. We’re going to continue to pursue all of those options.”

Budget Battle

The education debate was linked to the simultaneous haggling going on in the Senate last last week over a nearly $2 trillion budget resolution for fiscal 2002. The resolution, approved April 6 on a 65-35 vote, would guide tax and spending legislation in Congress, setting overall limits for federal spending in the coming fiscal year and laying out a budget framework for the next 10 years. It does not require approval by the president.

Mr. Bush’s tax-cutting agenda faced a setback when all but one of the chamber’s 50 Democrats and three moderate Republicans—including Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who chairs the Senate education committee—supported a change that would shift $450 billion over 10 years away from tax cuts. Of that total, $250 billion would go toward education and related programs, and $200 billion would be dedicated to reducing the national debt.

Also, the amendment would, for the first time, allow special education funding to be mandatory, rather than discretionary.

The next day, another amendment backed by Democrats and several Republicans shifted an additional $70 billion of tax cuts to pay specifically for special education over 10 years. Republican leaders have said they will try to restore all or part of Bush’s targeted tax cut when House and Senate members meet to reconcile differences between versions of the resolution passed in each body. The House version, passed March 28, has the entire $1.6 trillion cut.

“The fact is, now only 2 cents of every $1 [of the federal budget] is invested in education,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the lead sponsor of the amendment. “That is just not enough. It shows that education is not a top priority.”

President Bush has said he wants to spend $44.5 billion next year on the Department of Education, an increase of nearly $2.5 billion from the current fiscal year.

Republicans argued that the Democratic proposals take money out of taxpayers’ pockets to pay for more federal programs.

“Every amendment from the other side wants to spend the surplus so [taxpayers] won’t have it,” said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., the chairman of the Budget Committee.

The budget resolution is just the first step in a long and complicated budget process. President Bush was expected to release a detailed, program-by-program budget proposal on April 9. It is then up to the House and Senate Appropriations committees to pass detailed legislation.

That said, some observers maintain that the amendment to the budget blueprint last week sets the stage for a final fiscal 2002 budget with more education spending than Mr. Bush originally planned.

“I think, one way or another, this is going to result in more money for education than we were going to see 24 hours ago,” Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition of education groups, said last Thursday. “It certainly shows clearly the power of education as an issue.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2001 edition of Education Week as Senate Deal Would Allow Vouchers For Tutors


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Federal Funding and Charter School Closures: What the Latest Government Data Show
The Government Accountability Office examined closure rates over 15 years and $2.5 billion of federal funding.
2 min read
Illustration of weighing funding against schools remaining open
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Biden Administration Tightens Rules on Charter School Funding Program
The U.S. Department of Education responded to over 25,000 public comments in making its final revision of charter school funding rules.
7 min read
Students in Monica Farren’s 6th grade English class read outside during a poetry exercise at Albert Einstein Academy Charter Middle School in San Diego.
Students in a 6th grade English class read outside during a poetry exercise at Albert Einstein Academy Charter Middle School in San Diego. The U.S. Department of Education released final rules for the Charter School Program, a federal grant that provides money to schools in their first three years of operation.
Sandy Huffaker for Education Week
School Choice & Charters Opinion The Biden Administration Is Right: Charters Need to Be More Accountable
The proposed changes to the federal Charter School Program are just common sense, write Jitu Brown and Randi Weingarten.
Jitu Brown & Randi Weingarten
3 min read
Illustration of students and teachers holding puzzle pieces.
<b>F. Sheehan/Education Week and iStock/Getty</b>
School Choice & Charters What's Behind the Fight Over the Biden Administration's Stance on Charter School Funding
Proposed new rules for federal charter school funding have drawn the ire of many in the charter school community.
8 min read
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest as thousands of public school teachers, administrators and supports march through the streets of Sacramento during a protest held at the California State Capitol urging state legislators to provide more funding for public schools in Sacramento, Calif., on May 22, 2019.
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest during a march in Sacramento, Calif., that advocated for more funding for public schools in 2019.
Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP