U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today announced the introduction of his Empowering Parents Through Choice Act, a bill aimed at providing new opportunities for children trapped in under-performing schools. According to the U.S. Department of Education, hundreds of students in more than 100 schools across Tennessee would be eligible for new scholarships and other financial assistance.
“The Empowering Parents Through Choice Act puts funding behind the promise of No Child Left Behind” (NCLB), Alexander said. “A big part of the American dream is the notion that we should do our best to provide children from low-income families with the same opportunities for a good education that wealthier families enjoy.”
The Act would authorize the Department of Education to provide $300 million in fiscal year 2008 for competitive grants to states, school districts and non-profit organizations, falling into two categories:
Opportunity Scholarships, via competitive grants to local school districts, to develop school choice programs for schools identified as in need of restructuring under NCLB. These $4,000 scholarships would help students to attend the public or private institution of their choice. The program would also provide up to $3,000 in scholarships for tutoring for those who do not change schools.
Promise Scholarships, of up to $4,000, to students attending schools identified under NCLB as being in need of restructuring. These students could use the scholarship toward tuition and fees at a private school or to pay the additional costs of attending a different public school of their choice. These scholarships would be required under NCLB; local schools would have to provide them if the school accepts federal funds.
A recent poll found that 62 percent of public school parents had transferred a child out of one school into a better school, or decided where to live, based on the schools in that district. “This bill is one of many strategies designed to help improve opportunities for children in the lowest-performing schools, and offer a way out for students whose families don't have the money for private school tuition or to move to a better district,” Alexander said.
Under NCLB, schools are determined to be in need of restructuring if they fail to meet their Adequate Yearly Progress goals for five years. The U.S. Department of Education reports that approximately 1,700 schools fall into this category, which would make thousands of students eligible for grants under the Alexander bill.
Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, sits on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. He introduced a version of the Empowering Parents bill in the 109th Congress. Cosponsors of this year’s bill include Sens. John Ensign (R-NV), Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Jim DeMint (R-SC).