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.

AT&T Donates $5,000 To Cleveland State

AT&T announced a $5,000 contribution to the Cleveland State Community College to support non-traditional, underserved students preparing for high-skill jobs requiring technology-based skills in Tennessee community colleges.  The donation will fund scholarships to help students begin a path toward completing their college degrees. The contribution was presented on Tuesday ... (click for more)

Ringgold Marching Tiger Band Are Grand Champions Of The Oconee Classic Marching Contest

The Ringgold Marching Tiger Band competed in the Oconee Classic Marching Contest in Milledgeville, Ga., on Saturday. The band was named Grand Champions with an overall score of 94.58.  Percussion, color guard, drum majors, and band received Superior ratings in Class 5A as well as receiving Best in Class in all captions.  In addition,  all captions were named ... (click for more)

City To Begin Shipping Much Of Its Garbage To Bradley County

City Public Works Administrator Justin Holland said the city plans to begin shipping much of its garbage to Bradley County. He said the deal is projected to extend the life of the city landfill at Birchwood by 15 years. Mr. Holland said Bradley County "has a huge landfill and takes garbage from Knoxville and other municipalities. It's regional." He said Bradley County charges ... (click for more)

Man Says He Did Nothing To Provoke Shooting At Bakewell Gas Station; Suspect Says Victim Was Coming Toward Him

A 33-year-old man who was shot in the face during a clash at a Bakewell gas station said he did nothing to provoke the shooting. The man charged said the victim cursed him, then started toward him. General Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck, after a hearing on Tuesday, bound to the Grand Jury a charge of attempted first-degree murder against Donald Stuard II, 29, of Old Washington ... (click for more)

Jimmy Templeton Will Be Missed At The City Yards

If only we had known about the Chattanooga City Council's planned retirement send off for Jimmy Templeton of Public Works, the room would have been filled to overflowing with his friends and admirers - including me.   I have had the honor of knowing and working with Jimmy since the 1970's (and also knew his father "Big Jim").  Jimmy was a strong right hand for whoever ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Our 2.0 Embarrassment

Let’s pretend you are coming to a new and exciting world. You are on the jolly good ship “Mayflower” when some Miles Standish-type of a guy (he was the Pilgrim’s first cop) calls you into is presence and says, “Within two hours we are expected to stand on Plymouth Rock. Please come up with ten primary goals we should have in our public schools.” I believe you could do it within ... (click for more)