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.

Georgia Northwestern Offers "Free Leap Day"

Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) is offering "Free Leap Day" to help community members earn their GED diploma. On Feb. 29, any student or potential student may take any of the GED practice tests free of charge. Call one of the following centers to schedule an appointment.   Catoosa County – Ringgold – (706) 965-6155 extension 7 Chattooga County ... (click for more)

UTC Students To Be Honored At Stophel Scholarship Reception Thursday

Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C. will host the Chattanooga business community to honor and recognize 10 UTC students who have shown dedication and excellence in their studies.  The Stophel Scholars program connects students to leaders in Chattanooga’s business community and a reception will be held Thursday from 5:30-7 p.m. at Chambliss Conference Center, Liberty ... (click for more)

State's TNReady Testing Program Has "Severe Network Outage"; Testing To Be By Pencil And Paper

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Monday afternoon that the state's TNReady testing program had suffered "a severe network outage." Commissioner Edwards said the testing will go on, but it will have to be done with pencil and paper. She sent this email to school directors across the state: Directors, Thank you for your patience as we faced technical ... (click for more)

Brandon Bettis, 25, Arrested For Home Invasion; 2 Other Suspects Being Sought

Brandon Bettis, 25, was arrested after a home invasion early Monday morning, and two other suspects are being sought. Chattanooga Police responded to the 1100 block of Thomas Lane at 6:30 a.m. on the report of a home invasion robbery.  The suspects entered the home of the victims, James Shrum, 47, and Hillary Schooley, 25.   The victims were wakened and threatened ... (click for more)

The City Failed To Watch The Chattanooga History Museum Dollars - And Response (3)

The tell tale signs of the History Museum's folly have been evident for years. When I was a former member of City Council I interviewed Dr. Daryl Black, Ph.D. to determine if I should argue for or against the annual funding of his organization. His interview, the multi-year history of administrative non-performance (despite consistent repetitive funding), and a review of the organizational ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Momma Bears Roar

If I could count Hamilton County’s best educators on one hand, Normal Park Elementary Principal Jill Levine would be the biggest finger. What she and her faculty and a dazzling commitment from both her students and parents have accomplished is an educational dream. I am told people literally move to North Chattanooga just so their children will be zoned for the award-winning school. ... (click for more)