Alexander pushes school choice

Posted on July 19, 2006

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., joined other federal lawmakers Tuesday in introducing legislation that would provide up to $4,000 in scholarships for low-income children wanting to move to better-performing schools. The America's Opportunity Scholarship program would authorize $100 million next year to pay for scholarships for about 28,000 low-income students in under performing schools. "This offers a way out for students whose families don't have the money for tuition or the luxury of moving," said Sen. Alexander, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development. Under the program, eligible students would receive $4,000 to attend a private school of their choice or $3,000 to receive supplemental education in the form of additional tutoring or after-school programs. Sharon Marlow, president of the Tennessee Federation of Teachers, said she would rather see the money spent on improving the low-scoring public schools. "It is taking money away from public education," she said. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said the bill would provide students with options and make public schools better through competition. "When schools ... don't (work), parents must have other opportunities," she said. "We are going to build demand for change." U.S. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce chairman, said the bill probably would not come to a vote this year. But Sen. Alexander and Rep. McKeon said they are optimistic about the legislation's chances in 2007. They said the measure probably would be grafted into the No Child Left Behind Act, which is set for reauthorization next year. Under that act, schools are identified for restructuring after failing to meet yearly progress goals. The Education Department reported 1,065 schools were identified for restructuring in the 2004-05 school year.