Alexander Proposes 11 Million $2,100 “Scholarships For Kids”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Tuesday introduced legislation that would allow states to create $2,100 scholarships out of existing federal education dollars to follow 11 million low-income children to any public or private school of their parents’ choice.

The Scholarships for Kids Act would redirect $24 billion, or 41 percent of the dollars now directly spent on federal K-12 education programs.  Senator Alexander unveiled the proposal during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute alongside Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who has introduced legislation that would create similar scholarships for children with disabilities.

Senator Alexander served as education secretary to President George H.W. Bush and is the lead Republican on the Senate education committee.

Below are the senator’s full remarks:

Today I am introducing legislation that would allow $2,100 federal scholarships to follow 11 million low-income children to any public or private accredited school of their parents’ choice. 

This is a real answer to inequality in America: giving more children more opportunity to attend a better school. 

The “Scholarships for Kids Act” will cost $24 billion a year—paid for by redirecting 41 percent of the dollars now directly spent on federal K-12 education programs. Often these dollars are diverted to wealthier schools. “Scholarships for Kids” would benefit only children of families that fit the federal definition of poverty, which is about one-fifth of all school children.

Allowing federal dollars to follow students has been a successful strategy in American education for 70 years. Last year, $33 billion in federal Pell grants and $106 billion in loans followed students to public and private colleges. Since the GI Bill began in 1944, these vouchers have helped create a marketplace of 6,000 autonomous higher education institutions – the best in the world. 

Our elementary and secondary education system is not the best in the world.  U.S. 15-year olds rank 28th in science and 36th in math. I believe one reason for this is that while more than 93 percent of federal dollars spent for higher education follow students to colleges of their choice, federal dollars do not automatically follow K-12 students to schools of their choice.  

Instead, money is sent directly to schools. Local government monopolies run most schools and tell most students which school to attend. There is little choice and no K-12 marketplace as there is in higher education.       

Former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin often wrote that American creativity has flourished during “fertile verges,” times when citizens became more self-aware and creative. In his book Breakout, Newt Gingrich argues that society is on the edge of such an era and cites computer handbook writer Tim O’Reilly’s suggestion for how the Internet could transform government.   

"The best way for government to operate,” O’Reilly says, “is to figure out what kinds of things are enablers of society and make investments in those things. The same way that Apple figured out, ‘If we turn the iPhone into a platform, outside developers will bring hundreds of thousands of applications to the table.’ ”

Already 16 states have begun a variety of innovative programs supporting private school choice. Private organizations supplement these efforts. Allowing $2,100 federal scholarships to follow 11 million children would enable other school choice innovations, in the same way that developers rushed to provide applications for the iPhone platform. 

Senator Tim Scott has proposed the CHOICE Act, allowing 11 billion other dollars the federal government now spends through the program for children with disabilities to follow those 6 million children to the schools their parents believe provide the best services.

A student who is both low income and has a disability would benefit under both programs. Especially when taken together with Senator Scott’s proposal, “Scholarships for Kids” constitutes the most ambitious proposal ever to use existing federal dollars to enable states to expand school choice.

Under “Scholarships for Kids,” states still would govern pupil assignment, deciding, for example, whether parents could choose private schools. Schools chosen would have to be accredited. Federal civil rights rules would apply. The proposal does not affect school lunches. So that Congress can assess the effectiveness of this new tool for innovation, there is an independent evaluation after five years. 

In the late 1960s, Ted Sizer, then Harvard University’s education dean, suggested a $5,000 scholarship in his “Poor Children’s Bill of Rights.” In 1992, when I was U.S. education secretary, President George H.W. Bush proposed a “GI Bill for Kids,” a half-billion-federal-dollar pilot program for states creating school choice opportunities. Yet, despite its success in higher education, voucher remains a bad word among most of the K-12 educational establishment and the idea has not spread widely.

Equal opportunity in America should mean that everyone has the same starting line. During this week celebrating school choice, there would be no better way to help children move up from the back of the line than by allowing states to use federal dollars to create 11 million new opportunities to choose a better school.

Cleveland City School Board Welcomes Dr. Russell Dyer

The Cleveland City Schools Board of Education invites the community to meet Dr. Russell Dyer, new director of schools, on Thursday, July 7, 4-5 p.m. at the Administrative Office Building, 4300 Mouse Creek Road, Cleveland. This drop-in reception is open for teachers, parents and the community.  For the past two years, Dr. Dyer has been chief of staff for Collierville Schools ... (click for more)

Lu And Liu Take First Place In Lee’s Piano Competition

Yun Lu and Vincent Liu took first place in the 12th annual Lee University piano competitions for the collegiate and pre-collegiate divisions, respectively. The award ceremony concluded the International Piano Festival and Competition held June 12-18.  For the pre-collegiate division, second place was awarded to Jonathan Reichenberger, with third place going to Eriko Darcy ... (click for more)

Home In Ooltewah Damaged By Fire Caused By Lightning Strike Sunday Afternoon

A home in Ooltewah was damaged by fire early Sunday afternoon. At  4:33 p.m. , the homeowner called 911 reporting a fire at the residence at 711 Rocky Shadows Drive (Mountain Shadows subdivision in the Ooltewah area). The Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department responded and arrived on the scene reporting light smoke showing from the roofline. Firefighters entered ... (click for more)

Bass Pro Shops Opens July 13 In East Ridge

The grand opening of the Bass Pro Shops East Ridge Outpost kicks off Wednesday, July 13, at 6 p.m .  The event features an all-star cast of celebrities from the world of sports, entertainment and the great outdoors who will join together to help Bass Pro Shops celebrate an Evening for Conservation. The grand opening event will continue through Sunday, July 17, ... (click for more)

General Bell: Chattanooga Needs The Coolidge Medal Of Honor Heritage Center - And Response

I'm pleased and indeed compelled to let you know a bit more about the exciting and most honorable "Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center" planned for Coolidge Park.     Here's what the Heritage Center will be:  It will be a fitting capstone for Chattanooga's Coolidge Park on Northshore in downtown Chattanooga.  While this exceptional Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Where Will George Go?

George Will, easily one of the most respected conservative columnists in America and a Republican commentator, was a guest on Fox News Sunday yesterday when he made a very revealing statement. He announced he has left the Republican Party “for the same reason I joined it” and that he is not only disappointed by the party’s actions but its increasingly-inept leadership as well. ... (click for more)