Friday, January 28, 2005

PRESS RELEASE -- School choice gains momentum

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:59 PM |  

[Note: I'll have more on Pawlenty's proposal in a future post. At this point, I can say his heart's in the right place, but I'm not so sure he's thought this proposal all the way through. Need to noodle it a little more. But the hype is good. The Milwaukee note is especially disheartening.]

From the Alliance for School Choice


PHOENIX— In a powerful expression of the growing momentum of the school choice movement, governors of three states this week called for the enactment of school choice programs in their State of the State addresses.

“These efforts demonstrate a growing recognition that we need to consider all alternatives, including private schools, to make good on the promise of equal educational opportunities,” declared Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, the nonprofit group that leads the national effort for school choice for economically disadvantaged schoolchildren.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed in his budget a $4 million tax credit that he says will help close the achievement gap between white and minority students, which is among the most important public policy issues of our time. Under the plan, businesses would get the credit for funding scholarships that would allow as many as 1,500 poor and academically struggling students in the K-12 public school system to attend private schools.

“We're going to take the poor and the failing and give them another option,” Pawlenty said in his State of the State address. “They are economically challenged, they are socially challenged, they are socially challenged in many respects, and they are academically challenged. And the statistics as to their performance -- the achievement gap as it relates to Caucasian versus students of color -- is chronic, and it's systemic.”

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s plan is to reform the state’s education system and make it more competitive. He wants to do that by offering income and property-tax credits for private school tuition, as well as fees for attending school in another public school district and for home schooling. “If we keep on doing what we’ve been doing, were going to keep on getting what we’ve been getting,” Sanford said in his address. The credits would be refundable so that low-income families can benefit.

He urged the passing of the Put Parents in Charge Act so his state can compete on the international playing field, but, more importantly, “make changes that can transform people’s lives.”

In his State of the State address, Texas Gov. Rick Perry advocated more choices for children and financial incentives for schools that serve many economically disadvantaged children. He said, “Every child is entitled to a public education, but public education is not entitled to every child. Let's give children who need a second chance new choices that can forever change their future. Let's give them school choice.” The governor backs a pilot school choice program aimed at children in failing schools.

These three governors joined Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who already this year signed a school choice program for pre-K, allowing 100,000 to 200,000 children to attend private pre-schools; and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who stated his support for Utah's school choice. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt also pledged this week to make education his highest priority with plans to craft a new formula ensuring every Missouri child receives a world-class education.

Sounding a discordant note, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle quashed talks of a one-year reprieve in the enrollment cap on Milwaukee’s school choice program, which is very close to reaching its cap of about 15,000 students, or 15 percent of the enrollment of Milwaukee Public Schools. The program, which allows low-income families to send their children to private schools with state-funded tuition vouchers, has about 14,700 students participating this year and soon will reach capacity. If the cap is not raised, many economically disadvantaged youngsters may be forced to leave the only good schools they have ever attended.

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