Op Ed: Alexander plan for $500 school grants good idea

Posted on May 18, 2005

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander is floating a new education idea in Washington that is worth serious consideration. His plan would provide $500 Pell Grants to underprivileged kids. The money could be used for anything from in-school extracurricular activity expenses to private school tuition. Inside most of today's public and private classrooms, all students have access to the same information, textbooks, teachers and study materials. But outside the classroom, many kids fall behind their more affluent peers because they do not have access to value-added education experiences. Paying for things such as music or art lessons, tutoring, computer camps and a host of other education opportunities is hard for many families. Alexander's idea of allowing grant money to follow students' interests allows maximum flexibility and minimum government intrusion. The Pell Grant program for college students has worked well for years. There is no reason it could not work for elementary and high school students, especially since there wold be significant parent involvement in the process. Alexander estimates 560,000 Tennessee children could benefit from the program and 30 million students nationwide. It would cost $2.5 billion the first year. Naysayers claim the plan is just a disguised school voucher program. But that is short sighted. A $500 grant isn't enough to enable very many students to attend a private school that costs parents thousands a year. The reality is that the grants would be used to enhance public education in countless communities across the nation.