Two Republican senators from Tennessee and South Carolina are teaming up in an attempt to rewrite federal education law, including pushing for greater access to school choice.
The recent draft of the K-12 education bill includes a provision that would use $14.5 billion in federal Title I money to offer 11 million low-income students $1,300 to enable them to choose the public school of their choice. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina would like to see even more included in the bill in coming drafts.
Offering parents more choice in the school they choose to send their child to would be one of the most controversial parts of the attempted rewrite of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Despite having worked together before on school choice issues, the two senators believe this attempt has more weight behind it as Republicans currently hold the majority in the Senate and Alexander is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
"Compared to last year's conversation on choice, this is a far better year," said Scott. "I think we're in a far better position to see flexibility happen."
Alexander discussed Pell Grants and the GI Bill, calling them successful programs that allow students to use federal money to attend the college of their choice, writes Mary Troyan for Greenville Online.
"So why is it so hard to do it for (K-12) schools?" he said at a daylong forum about school choice on Capitol Hill organized by Scott.
In addition to the provision offering low income students money to attend the public school of their choice, Alexander would like to see that increased for poor students to attend private schools.
However, using federal money to aid low-income students is an idea challenged by critics who feel it would hurt the public education system.
"Title I portability will take away resources from our poorest schools and districts and give them to more affluent ones, undermining the historic federal role of targeting aid to our neediest students," said Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, the top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also opposes the idea, saying that it goes against the purpose of Title I, which is to combat concentrations of poverty.
A House committee passed an education bill last week that included the Title I portability provision. However, shortly after its passage the White House made its opposition to the bill public, stopping short of issuing a veto threat, reports Lyndsey Layton for The Washington Post.
"This approach is backward and teachers and kids deserve much, much better," said Cecilia MuÃ±oz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
A number of other choice-related amendments are expected to be introduced, including one that would make federal money portable for special education students, which would give states the option of allowing $6 billion in federal money to be used to allow 6 million disabled students the choice of whichever school their parents choose.
Alexander would also like to see a Scholarship for Kids bill added, which would use $24 billion in federal K-12 dollars to give states the ability to create scholarships worth $2,100 for 11 million low-income students to use to attend any public or private school they choose.