Coinciding with School Choice Week last week, Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate are pushing forward a bill that would allow Title I funds to follow low-income students to any public or private school of their choice. The proposal sets up a clash with congressional Democrats, who are significant beneficiaries of the campaign fundraising largess from teachers unions.
The Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Act, which was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican and lead co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican. Rep. Luke Messer, Indiana Republican, has filed a companion bill in the House. Besides the flexibility for Title I funding, the bill would also remove contribution limitations on Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, which is the lone tax break available to parents for K-12 expenses. It would also expand “529” Savings Accounts to cover K-12 elementary and secondary education expenses. The 529 proposal is a direct repudiation of President Obama’s evanescent proposal to remove tax benefits for these savings accounts. He hastily withdrew that idea after it was criticized by his own party elders like Reps. Nancy Pelosi of California and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
Rick Hess, education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute praised the bill, saying he like the Coverdell and 529 ideas, though “they’ve obvious limitations.”
“Think it’s a fine proposal,” Hess said over email to Opportunity Lives. “Good to have folks putting this kind of legislation forward and talking about it. Practically speaking, it’s unlikely that private school Title I portability is going anywhere, but it’s still good to talk about it.”
“The rich and middle class have had school choice from the beginning of time,” Cruz said upon release of the bill. “This fight is about ensuring that every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, or zip code has the same opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs and will help them achieve their very best. I am proud to work with Sen. Lee and Congressman Messer on this legislation to give more and more kids hope and opportunity for a better life.”
Cruz spoke to more than 300 students on Capitol Hill at a rally for National School Choice Week, where he pointed out that there is a waiting list with more than 1 million names of children wanting to enter charter schools across the country.
“We shouldn’t put our future on a waiting list,” Cruz said at the event, which was recorded. “We don’t have to argue theoretically anymore … We know how this works. When you give children hope and opportunity, it expands their future. Competition works. We’ve seen it all over the country.”
Source: National Alliance For Public Charter Schools
The overwhelming demand for charter schools is confirmed by the National Alliance For Public Charter Schools. By that organization’s definition, a charter school waiting list is the total number of applications a school receives, minus the number of available seats before the first day of school in the fall. In the 2013-14 school year, there were a 1,043,311 student names on charter school waitlists nationwide, though some students apply for multiple schools.
As Republicans assume full leadership reins in Congress, school choice is an area where the GOP can make strides among African-Americans and Hispanic voters, demographic groups that historically have supported Democrats. Research from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice shows African-Americans support vouchers by a +50 point margin, and Latinos by a +47 point margin. These groups are also strong supporters of educational savings accounts.
Yet, as Jason Riley points out in his recent book, too often well-meaning liberal political leaders are beholden to entrenched power from teachers’ unions that want to hold back educational competition. A breakthrough vote from a Republican Congress on this issue could help pave the way for victory in 2016, especially if it’s then vetoed by a Democratic President in the White House.
Source: Open Secrets
The Cruz-Lee-Messer bill was lauded by the educational reform movement, including The Center for Education Reform, which called for empowering parents to decide among traditional public, public charters, parochial or private, online or blended modalities that best suit their children’s needs.
“Parents continue to prove to be better stewards of their children’s education,” Kara Kerwin, President, of the Center for Education Reform told Opportunity Lives. “Making these particular federal programs more portable and user-friendly sends a bold statement from Capitol Hill. It is time we make sure programs like Title I – $15 billion price tag annually – actually result in better educational outcomes for our nation’s most disadvantaged students it is intended to serve.”
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Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others.