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Pass H.R. 2556 to Create School Choice for D.C. Students
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Press Release

Pass H.R. 2556 to Create School Choice for D.C. Students

July 8, 2003 Tom Davis Chairman Committee on Government Reform U.S. House of Representatives 2157 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Dear Chairman Davis: On behalf of the 280,000 members of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), I would like to thank you and the other Members of the House Committee on Government Reform for considering H.R. 2556, the District of Columbia Parental Choice Incentive Act of 2003.

07/08/2003
Let workers control their Social Security
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Let workers control their Social Security

BY ALICE CLICK

Social Security reform is perhaps the most important issue for the 2004 elections. The current system is failing, threatening the 232,000 retirees who receive Social Security in West Virginia. If Social Security is not reformed, it will begin to run deficits by 2018. The system as a whole will be completely bankrupt by the year 2042. Then we will be forced to either raise taxes or decrease benefits. Neither option is acceptable.

06/01/2003
Lawsuits Instead of Fixing Schools
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Press Release

Lawsuits Instead of Fixing Schools

Concerned Coloradans wasted no time in implementing the largest school choice program in the nation after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for vouchers in Zellman v. Simmons-Harris last June. Governor Bill Owens worked with legislators, activists and concerned parents this spring to make Colorado the first state to adopt a school voucher law since the Court handed down its landmark decision. But almost before Owens’s signature dried on the bill, the Colorado Education Association (CEA), the state’s largest teacher union, was threatening to sue.

05/30/2003
Giving Students a New Choice
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Press Release

Giving Students a New Choice

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.

05/14/2003
School Choice Comes to Washington
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Press Release

School Choice Comes to Washington

Dear Legislator: 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, and on behalf of the 280,000 members of CSE, I urge you to support this bill, which would increase significantly parents’ control over their children’s education.

05/14/2003
Dueling school finance plans in Texas -- which should prevail?
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Press Release

Dueling school finance plans in Texas -- which should prevail?

CSE’s message to the Texas Senators: Not Now! Two School Funding Plans in Texas: Two plans to address the school finance are at battle in the Legislature. Voters need to know how each would impact them. Here is an overview of the plans:

05/11/2003
Backgrounder: Texas Freedom Scholarships
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Press Release

Backgrounder: Texas Freedom Scholarships

BACKGROUND: CSE supports a parent’s right to select the educational environment where their child has the best opportunity to learn. Government-assigned, government-run schools are not free-market. However, we do not oppose public education. There are many good schools and many good teachers. But currently, choice is widespread among citizens who can either move to a school district of their choice or can afford to pay twice – once in taxes and again in private school tuition. So choice is widespread unless you are poor. This legislation provides a choice for those who currently have no options.

04/04/2003
Voucher Bill Passes Committee
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Voucher Bill Passes Committee

BY April Castro

During an impromptu meeting Thursday, the House Public Education Committee hastily passed legislation that would allocate government money to low-income parents in certain school districts to transfer their children from public to private schools. The bipartisan committee voted 5-3 in favor of referring the bill favorably to the House Calendar Committee, which sets a date for a full vote on the measure. Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, who authored the bill, said he expects a full vote on the House floor within the next few weeks. "It's a good thing for Texans," said Michael Sullivan, director of government relations for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential group of conservative policy wonks. "Children benefit when children have more opportunity and more choices. Obviously our public schools are doing a fantastic job in educating just about every kid in just about every circumstance. But there are kids who need different circumstances." Critics of the voucher program questioned why the move was made on the House floor with little public notice. "We wonder why the vote was taken at the chairman's desk on the floor of the House and not in committee where the public would be fully aware that a vote was on the agenda," said Larry Comer, a spokesman for the Texas Association of Professional Educators. "Perhaps the committee members are afraid of public backlash to a tax entitlement plan that benefits only private and parochial schools at the expense of public schools." A "school voucher" program, which has previously been unsuccessful in the Texas Legislature, has drawn criticism from teachers' groups who say a lack of state accountability in private schools can be detrimental to students. "To give tax dollars to private school operators is to transfer money from a system which is highly accountable to taxpayers into a system that has no accountability at all," said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. Cole noted private schools are not subject to open records and meetings requirements. Sullivan argued that accountability in private schools is more efficient. "Private schools have the greatest accountability possible - Mom and Dad can say we're leaving," Sullivan said. "What accountability does Harvard have, does Baylor have? We believe that parents really do care about their children's education and there's an arrogance in thinking that Mom and Dad can't make good educational choices for their children." Other opponents say the measure would be fiscally irresponsible in the face of an estimated $9.9 billion budget shortfall. "This voucher bill is so fiscally irresponsible that it drew bipartisan opposition," said Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes the voucher system. "Our state is facing a $10 billion budget deficit and our schools are facing billions in education cuts. Texans know that now is not the time to drain millions more from our public schools." Still, chances for the bill this time around seem promising as House Speaker Tom Craddick, Gov. Rick Perry, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst - all Republicans - have said they favor a voucher program. "I think you're seeing areas of the state where there are still some failing schools and those children in those failing schools should not be forced to a life of mediocracy or failure just because someone wants to protect a failing school," Perry said, during an interview with The Associated Press before the session started in January. "I still think that's an appropriate option for parents and students." Grusendorf, who prefers the term "freedom scholarships" over vouchers, said the loss of money and students to public schools would be countered by other legislation allocating more money per student to public schools. "Free education isn't free, it's our tax dollars that are being used whether they're being used at a public school or at a school other than public that the parent chooses, they're still our tax dollars being used," said Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy. "The bottom line shouldn't be the money, the bottom line should be the child's education." Public schools in Texas are funded primarily with local property taxes and state money. The school finance system, known to some as Robin Hood, takes money from property rich districts and gives it to poorer schools. The program would be limited to children of low-income families in the state's largest school districts, with enrollments of more than 40,000. Eleven public school districts would be initially affected: Aldine, Alief, Houston, Pasadena, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Brownsville, El Paso and Ysleta. In 2005, local school boards could vote to allow any district to participate. The private schools that accept the vouchers would be required to make test scores public, a provision critics oppose because the public has no say in what kind of test. Public schools would continue to receive some funding for students who choose to use a voucher, including about 10 percent of the value of the voucher. Private schools would receive 90 percent of the voucher or the school's average annual cost per student, whichever is less.

04/03/2003
CCISD Could be Forced to Deal With School Vouchers Under Bill
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CCISD Could be Forced to Deal With School Vouchers Under Bill

BY Monica Wolfson

AUSTIN - While it may appear that school vouchers have taken a backseat to more pressing legislative matters, it's still on the political radar and could be the focus of legislative debate before the session ends June 2. Both advocates for public school vouchers as well as opponents said vouchers have been overshadowed by the strains of balancing the state budget with its $9.9 billion shortfall, but the issue is not dead. "We think there is time to get it through," said Peggy Venable, executive director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group that promotes the use of vouchers. "In terms of school choice, we think this legislation addresses parents who truly have no other option." Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group that opposes vouchers, said she has never worked so hard on the issue. "(House) Speaker (Tom) Craddick and Gov. Rick Perry are making it clear to legislators that they view vouchers as a priority," Smoot said. "On the other hand, there is little public support for vouchers especially at a time when legislators are having trouble making ends meet paying for the basics. These two political realities are headed for a showdown." Just last week, the House Public Education Committee held its first hearing on public school vouchers inviting Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman to testify in favor of vouchers. He said vouchers would improve public education by spurring competition for students between public and private schools. Voucher bill pending Left pending in committee was House Bill 2465, which is one of two voucher bills in the House. Bill author Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, is also the chairman of the Public Education Committee. HB 2465 allows school districts with more than 40,000 students with a majority of the student body being economically disadvantaged to offer families who make no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level - or $36,000 for a family of four - vouchers to go to private schools. If a child goes to a private school, the private school would get 90 percent of state and local funds normally spent to educate the child in its public school district. The other 10 percent would go to the school district the child would have attended. Children who go to private schools using state money via vouchers would have to take standardized tests. Eleven districts qualify Eleven school districts would qualify for the voucher program, including two school districts in the El Paso area and three school districts in the Houston area. But in 2005, all the restrictions expire and all school districts in the state could participate in the voucher program so long as a majority of school board members approve it. All income requirements for participating families disappear as well. According to the Texas Education Agency, the Corpus Christi Independent School District had 39,138 students in 2001. Fifty-five percent of those students are economically disadvantaged. If Corpus Christi grew to 40,000 students, it would have to participate in the proposed public school voucher program, if the bill passed. Startup costs involved While the fiscal note attached to Grusendorf's bill says there would be no financial impact to the state, it also says the voucher program would cost the Texas Comptroller's Office $2 million in startup costs as well as almost $1 million per year for 11 full-time employees to administer the voucher program. The comptroller would be responsible for paying out the vouchers and monitoring whether private schools comply with the laws. The education agency estimated there are 22,800 private school slots available for the 639,000 children who would qualify. The agency also estimated 8,000 students would use vouchers in 2004 and 15,000 would use them in 2005. Local school districts shoulder the bulk of the financial burden for vouchers, according to the fiscal note. In 2004, the 11 school districts would lose a combined $40 million, while in 2005, they would forfeit $75 million. It would be difficult for school districts to cut operating expenses to cover the loss of revenue, especially if departing students come from throughout the district, the fiscal note said. Fears for school funding "If you can't afford to buy new textbooks or (pay for) teacher health insurance, can you afford a new expense to subsidize private schools?" said Carolyn Boyle, who heads up the Coalition for Public Schools, which is made up of school districts and other community groups that oppose vouchers. "I think legislators think they will look irresponsible if they vote for a private voucher bill." Boyle said she fears that if a voucher bill fails on the House floor, then voucher amendments might get slipped into other legislation. Venable, the head of the pro-voucher group, said forcing parents to put their children in a particular public school runs counter to free market principles. She also said $75 million is a small amount of money compared to the $26 billion per year the state and local communities spend on public education funding. "(Bureaucrats) are scared to death of parents having choices and would put any fiscal note on this they could," Venable said. "I think that is a stretch . . . I can't imagine there is going to be a negative impact. If you have one less child, but 10 percent of the money, you've got more money and less kids." Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said he suspects lawmakers will be so consumed with balancing the budget that the voucher issue might remain on the back burner. "I think the fiscal situation to the state is so evidently dire that they are focusing on the budget," Jillson said. "There just isn't a lot of room for the social agenda of the Republican Party."

03/31/2003
Nobel Laureate, Parents Testify at Rowdy Vouchers Hearing
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Nobel Laureate, Parents Testify at Rowdy Vouchers Hearing

BY Connie Mabin

Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman, who advocates the use of taxpayer-funded vouchers for use in private schools, was among those who testified Tuesday at a rowdy House committee hearing on school vouchers. Friedman, a Stanford University economist, was invited to speak at the House Public Education Committee by its chairman, Rep. Kent Grusendorf. Grusendorf, R-Arlington, has filed a bill that would establish laws authorizing government money for low-income parents who transfer their children from public to private schools. Such a system is commonly referred to as "school vouchers" or "school choice." Grusendorf calls them "freedom scholarships." Friedman said he believes the American public education system has worsened over time, particularly in poor areas, and blames what he calls a government monopoly and powerful teachers unions. "The government provides food stamps but it doesn't run grocery stores," he said. Friedman called Grusendorf's proposal the nation's most broad attempt to use vouchers for public education. "It's the system, not the people" making children fail, Friedman said, and competition would demand improvement in all schools. The audience often erupted in applause and let out loud hoots when supporters voiced agreeable statements. More than 100 people signed up to testify. Dozens of children and parents supporting vouchers wore bright blue T-shirts declaring: "school choice works." But there were vocal opponents, too, including dozens of educators and Sam Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network. She's opposed to using taxpayer money in schools that don't have to follow the same laws meant to ensure equality and separation of church and state. Texas State Teachers Association President Donna New-Haschke said it's not the time to try vouchers with nearly $3 billion in proposed budget cuts to public education. "We simply cannot afford using tax dollars to fund the interest of private schools when our students are being told to wait for new textbooks, our teachers are facing cuts in health insurance and highly touted programs like master math teachers programs are on the chopping block," New-Haschke said. On the other side, Peggy Venable of Citizens for a Sound Economy said she was disgusted that teachers appeared to be more interested in their own financial future than children's education. "I believe that parents deserve the freedom to choose," Venable said. If public schools fear mass exodus of students because of vouchers, that proves there is a problem, she said. Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said he was concerned that the bill did not prohibit religious or gender discrimination. Grusendorf said it prohibited discrimination against race and national orientation. Also, he said, critics must trust parents to select a school that's best for their children. William Bryant, a pastor from Dallas, said vouchers would empower parents, particularly minority or poor parents. "We say yes to it because we believe it's time for real freedom in education for all of the children in Texas," he said. Texas lawmakers, under pressure from teachers unions and 1,100 school districts, have consistently rejected legislation calling for a voucher experiment in selected urban counties. This session is likely to be different in the GOP-dominated Statehouse, however, because Republicans House Speaker Tom Craddick, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry all support a pilot voucher program. Under Grusendorf's legislation, the program for children of low income families would be limited to the state's largest school districts, where enrollment tops 40,000 and a majority of students are eligible for the federal free and reduced priced lunch programs. Eleven public school districts would be initially affected: Aldine, Alief, Houston, Pasadena, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Brownsville, El Paso and Ysleta. In 2005, local school boards could vote to allow any district to participate. The private schools that accept the vouchers would be required to make tests scores public, a provision critics said is bad because the public has no say in what kind of test. Public schools would continue to receive some funding for students who choose to use a voucher, including about 10 percent of the value of the voucher. Private schools would receive 90 percent of the voucher or the school's average annual cost per student, whichever is less.

03/18/2003

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