U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and John Ensign (R-NV) and U.S. Representatives Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Sam Johnson (R-TX) today introduced bicameral legislation (S. 3682 and H.R. 5822) to implement the Bush administration’s America’s Opportunity Scholarships program to give children who are trapped in under-performing schools more choices and opportunities to improve their educational experience.
“America’s Opportunity Scholarships give meaning to the promise of No Child Left Behind,” said Sen. Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development and former U.S. Education Secretary. “This is about giving low-income families whose children are stuck in low-performing schools the same opportunities as other families. A recent poll found that 62 percent of public school parents have transferred a child out of one school into a better school or have decided where to live based on the schools in that district. This offers a way out for students whose families don't have the money for tuition or the luxury of moving.”
"Educating America’s youth must be a priority for the people of our nation, and our government,” said Sen. Ensign. “America’s Opportunity Scholarships program opens greater avenues to make certain that all children in our nation are given a chance to succeed. This legislation will help to ensure that our most disadvantaged children can receive a better education and will ensure that our nation’s next generations have the skills they need to succeed in the future.”
“Not only does the America’s Opportunity Scholarship for Kids Act expand upon the great success of No Child Left Behind by increasing parental choice, but it also shines a brighter light than ever on the need for more educational opportunities and – ultimately – higher achievement in our classrooms,” said Rep. McKeon, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
“Children may be a fraction of today's society but they are 100% of our future. It's time we empower students - and their parents. I want to give these children a choice and a chance,” said Rep. Johnson.
The America's Opportunity Scholarships for Kids Act would authorize the Department of Education to provide $100 million in fiscal year 2007 for competitive grants to states, school districts, and non-profit organizations to provide scholarships of up to $4,000 to low-income children in persistently under-performing schools to attend the private school of their choice.
States, school districts, and non-profit organizations would also be authorized to provide up to $3,000 to low-income students for intensive, sustained supplemental educational services if students don’t want to attend a different school. This would include high-quality tutoring, after-school or summer school programs designed to help improve the student’s academic achievement.
Under the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, schools are identified for restructuring after failing to meet their Adequate Yearly Progress goals for six years. The U.S. Department of Education reports that in the 2004-05 school year, 1,065 schools were identified for restructuring. Preliminary estimates suggest that an additional 1,000 schools will be identified for restructuring in the 2005-06 school year.
“You shouldn't need to win the lottery to send your child to a high-performing school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings who joined the bill sponsors at a press conference on Capitol Hill to announce the legislation. “President Bush believes we must give parents options, and the America’s Opportunity Scholarships program will empower parents to demand more from our schools and enable them to make choices for their kid’s education and future.”
The bill’s sponsors noted a pair of studies that illustrate the effectiveness of school choice:
--a Harvard-Georgetown-University of Wisconsin study published in 2000 found that African-American students receiving private scholarships in three regions – Ohio, New York, and Washington, D.C. – scored significantly better than their public school peers; and
--according to the 2002 book, “The Education Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools” by William Howell and Paul Peterson, African-American students using vouchers in New York cut their achievement gap in half over three years.