Today AEI is hosting an event featuring new pieces of proposed legislation by Senators Lamar Alexander and Tim Scott. The bills would empower states to “voucherize” much of federal education spending. The legislation drafted by Sen. Scott would allow federal funds for students with disabilities to flow directly to students and follow them to the school of their choice. The bill from Sen. Alexander would do the same for the funds for 80 other federal education programs. States would get regulatory relief and flexibility and money would follow children to the places that their families believed best served their needs. Sounds like win-win.
I can support this type of federal legislation because it reduces federal control over education and devolves more power to states and families. You can watch the event unveiling the legislation live right now and it should be available as a recording later.
Here are summaries of the Alexander bill that I’ve seen:
A Bill introduced by Senator Alexander to enable states to use nearly $24 billion in existing federal education funds to expand school choice options and empower low-income parents
What the Bill Does:
Enables states to use nearly $24 billion in existing annual federal education funds to follow students to the public or private school or educational program that they attend.
This would provide, on average, $2,100 in annual federal support for each of 11 million students from families living in poverty that their parents could use to pay private school tuition and fees, supplement their public school or public charter school budget, attend a public school outside their assigned school district, or purchase tutoring services or homeschooling materials.
Allows low-income students in participating states to choose a better or different school instead of waiting for their school to improve in order to have access to a quality education.
Allows states to use federal education funds to support their own efforts to expand school choice for low-income families, including the 16 states with private school choice programs and 42 states with inter-district public school choice programs.
Provides states that opt to participate in this program with relief from burdensome mandates and requirements of No Child Left Behind.
There are 54 million students in elementary and secondary schools in the U.S., including 11 million school-age children (5 to 17 years old) from families living in poverty.
In 2011, states spent more than $604 billion on public K-12 education, receiving $75.5 billion from federal resources (approximately12.5% of total expenditures).
Since 2001, total expenditures for elementary and secondary education have increased by nearly 39%, but have produced only modest increases in student achievement.
More than half of the nation’s 4 American students continue to be outperformed by many of their peers around the world.
Points to consider:
The U.S. has the best system of higher education in the world, due to autonomy, high standards, and competition for the approximately $140 billion in federal grants and loans that follow more than half of students to the college or university of their choice each year.
Federal support for K-12 education has taken the opposite approach – with opposite results.
These federal dollars typically fund schools or federal programs, rather than individual students, provide limited choices for parents, and are often governed by complicated rules and regulations that restrict how they can be spent.
Poor and minority students are most likely to attend their assigned public school and are often stuck in schools that fail to meet their educational needs.
Allowing federal funds to follow students to the school or educational program of their choice would inject competition into the system by letting low-income parents decide how best to meet their child’s educational needs.
The “Scholarships for Kids Act” would:
provide flexibility to States by consolidating over 80 federal education programs into one $24 billion funding stream to support the education of low-income children; and
give each state the freedom to use those funds to offer scholarships that follow low-income students to whatever school or supplemental educational program they attend, consistent with state law.
States would receive the same amount of funding regardless of whether they create a “Scholarships for Kids” program. But states creating a “Scholarships for Kids” program would be relieved the burdensome mandates and compliance requirements of No Child Left Behind and have significant flexibility as to how their scholarship programs are administered.
States that create a “Scholarships for Kids” Program would:
Provide the Department of Education with a declaration of intent to create a “Scholarships for Kids Program” and a description of how the program would be administered.
Decide the range of schools and programs at which eligible students would be able to use their scholarships. This could include at the state’s option:
o the public school the student attends through a public school choice program (including
o accredited private schools approved by the state to participate in the program;
o other educational programs like supplemental educational service programs, afterschool
o or even simply the public school the eligible student would otherwise attend, in which
Ensure in all cases that scholarship funds participating schools and programs receive are in addition to any non-federal funds the school or program would receive in the absence of the Scholarships for Kids program.
Ensure that any private schools participating in the Scholarships for Kids program do not discriminate against eligible students but retain control over discipline policies and teaching mission, including religious instruction.
Continue to comply with federal civil rights requirements, student privacy protections, and protections for students with disabilities.
Continue to maintain challenging academic standards, test students in public schools annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and report on student achievement by school and student subgroup.
No longer be required to comply with federal mandates on how they determine whether public schools are succeeding or failing and the specific strategies they use to improve schools identified as low-performing.