SIMMONS: On school choice, Ryan earns an A+
Now that Republican Mitt Romney has hit the reset button in his run for the White House by selecting Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, let’s start our discussion with a key domestic issue: education.
From early-childhood education to colleges and universities, Mr. Ryan’s record is well-documented.
A Roman Catholic serving his seventh term in the House, the Wisconsin Republican supports the three-tiered approach to public education, meaning traditional public schools, public charter schools and public vouchers. He voted in favor of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.
He also wants the federal government to cut the red tape when it comes to schooling, favoring instead greater state, local and civic control.
Of course, his stance doesn’t sit well with partisans who like to have things both ways, especially when it delves into the realm of higher education, where Mr. Ryan supports public, private and for-profit institutions of higher learning.
Last winter, he voted in favor of a House measure that opposed allowing the U.S. Education Department to tighten its regulatory screws on for-profit colleges. The calls for increased oversight were made following a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which said for-profit college enrollment in recent years grew from 365,000 students to almost 1.8 million and that in 2009 students enrolled in such schools received more than $4 billion in Pell Grants and more than $20 billion in federal loans provided by the Department of Education.
The agency probed 15 for-profit colleges in six states and Washington, D.C., including schools that had received 89 percent or more of their revenues from federal student aid.
What it found is worthy of a vice presidential debate: four schools encouraged GAO’s undercover “students” to be fraudulent. All 15 schools made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to the “students.” School personnel encouraged four “students” to falsify their financial-aid forms to qualify for federal aid. One went so far as to tell the “student” to hide his $250,000 in savings.
In a debate, it seems, Vice President Joseph R. Biden should be called upon to explain what the Obama administration is doing to clamp down on these law-breaking schools, and Mr. Ryan should explain why he does not favor enforcement.
But for-profit colleges do not stand alone when it comes to ripping off the public, when considered in light of last week’s news about Florida State College at Jacksonville, where at least 1,300 students might have to repay Pell Grant money.
This spring, following a federal review, FSCJ began notifying more than 700 Pell Grant recipients that they were ineligible after they received the money in school year 2010-11. During further review, the school uncovered an additional 500 who should not have received the grant money.
The school had erred. Unfortunately, the pain is being visited upon the students and their families.
Surely, the Obama administration had and has tools at its disposal to stop such scam artistry at its source.
As for the other end of the education spectrum, Mr. Ryan is spot on, earning an A+ for school choice during all seven of his terms in Congress, especially for his support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
As my colleague Tom Howell Jr. reported Thursday, 1,489 scholarships were awarded to returning D.C. students and 299 new students received vouchers, for a total of 1,788.
Seventy-five percent of the new kids had attended a traditional or charter school designated as “in need of improvement,” the article said.
I love it.
A Romney administration, with Mr. Ryan in seat No. 2, could mean rescuing still more low-income kids caught in the crossfire of school-reform efforts — a welcoming prospect when you consider the fact that Mr. Romney wants to expand the already popular voucher program.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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