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Will the Nation’s Capital Have Universal School Choice?

Mar 14, 2016 by

By Carole Haynes –

Recently, United States Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced the Educational Freedom Accounts Act (S. 2455), which would create a universal private school choice program in Washington, D.C. for every public school student, including those enrolled in public charter schools. Companion legislation (H.R. 4426) has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

Modeled after the recently passed Education Savings Account (ESA) law in Nevada, the bill allows the amount normally spent per pupil in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to be placed in a parent-controlled account. The funds can be used for tuition, fees, tutoring, curricula and other qualifying expenses to customize the child’s education.

An overarching concern of many is that federal strings will be tied to the ESA funds, resulting in changing the character of the private school and creating the same problems from which the public is fleeing. However, if the bill is passed as written, the education provider or program can continue to enforce its own admission requirements and accept only those students deemed best qualified to attend the school. The exception is that discrimination cannot be based on race, color, national origin or sex, although single sex schools, classes and activities would be permitted. Citing the First Amendment, the bill protects the right of religious schools from being required to make changes including:

  • their teaching mission;
  • removal of religious symbols or scriptures;
  • removal of religious terms in the school name, mission statement or board documents; or
  • the selection of board members on a religious basis.

Critically important, the bill prohibits the federal government from controlling the school’s curriculum.

While there are some school choice options available now in the federal district, with public charter schools and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, waiting lines are long and thousands of parents are seeking alternatives to the bottom-ranked DCPS.

Furthermore, if the Educational Freedom Accounts Act bill is passed, DCPS stands to lose a substantial amount of money to parent-controlled, taxpayer-funded accounts. According to the Heritage Foundation, per-pupil spending was $29,400 and with an elementary/secondary enrollment of 44,179 in 2013. Should even 5,000 parents move their children out of traditional and public charter schools, D.C. public education would lose nearly $148 million dollars. At a loss of 10,000 students, DCPS could face a staggering loss of almost $295 million dollars.

Central planning has not been successful for education in spite of massive taxpayer funding. Free market competition in other areas, such as telecommunication, has brought far better services, greater options, and lower prices.

Free market competition in education also will bring far better options. Faced with loss of funding that can cripple the system, DCPS has its own “choice” to make significant changes and to provide a high quality education for D.C. children.

The other choice is whether lawmakers will pass the bill to restore the right of D.C. parents to educate their children as they wish.

Source: Will the Nation’s Capital Have Universal School Choice? | Education Reform | NCPA.org

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