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On May 9, the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee held a hearing on alternative schools and educational reform in the District of Columbia. Legislators heard from various witnesses who testified on H.R. 684, the “D.C. School Choice Act of 2003” sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) supports this sensible reform measure, which would increase significantly parents’ control over their children’s education.
Giving parents the choice among the widest possible array of schools will provide these learning institutions with the incentives to make available the best education for every student. Without school choice, schools get students and funding regardless of how well they perform. CSE supports policies that will increase competition, innovation, and diversity in the education system. This includes vouchers, charter schools, and tax credits.
Parents strive to send their children to safe schools where they will get the educational opportunities they need to compete in a global economy. Unfortunately, the education bureaucracy and teachers' unions often try to keep parents from full access to different educational opportunities.
While opponents say giving parents a voice and a choice of schools will destroy public schools, the truth is all schools can grow stronger as a result of competition. Competition will produce better schools for everyone. Consider America’s system of universities, where choice has created high-quality education of many different kinds for anyone interested in obtaining it.
Rep. Flake and the co-sponsors to H.R. 684 have proposed a measure that would address the pressing situation that the District of Columbia faces: too many of the District’s children are not receiving adequate education. Much has been made of Mayor Anthony Williams’ recent comments supporting vouchers for District children. Explicit in his comments is the fact that the District’s public schools are failing to meet children’s educational requirements. For instance, Congress has found that the District of Columbia schools have the lowest average of any school system in the nation on the National Assessment of Education Progress; 72 percent of fourth graders in D.C. tested below basic proficiency in reading on the National Assessment of Education Progress in 1998; and, according to the D.C.’s own data, only 53 percent of District of Columbia public school students in the 10th grade are reading at or above the basic level.
H.R. 684 would essentially provide parents in Washington, D.C. the opportunity to take their children out of failing schools and find institutions that meet their child’s educational needs. The program does not affect the District of Columbia’s existing educational budget. The bill would provide the District and its parents with a new plan to educate their children. In addition, H.R. 684 would create a seven-member private, independent non-profit corporation to administer a scholarship program.
Many have argued that this program would hinder the District’s public school system, but CSE begs to differ. Not only would H.R. 684 provide new scholarships and allow parents to choose which schools to send their children to, but it would also introduce competition and innovation into a school system that is in dire need of reform.
H.R. 684 presents parents whose children are stuck in inadequate learning institutions with an opportunity to make a difference in their child’s educational experience. Importantly, it would provide eligible families with choice and opportunity. Congress should not let another day pass knowing that many of our nation’s schools are utterly failing to educate children. Rep. Flake has proposed a sensible proposal that addresses this issue and has the interests of children and families in mind. It’s time for Congress to pass H.R. 684!