- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Joe Liebermans muzzle is off. The former vice presidential candidate had had to go through all types of contortions during his run with Al Gore to prove that, despite his track record as one of the Democratic Partys strongest school choice proponents, a Gore-Lieberman administration would fight against vouchers. He even called American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman to tell her as much. Now that Mr. Gores safely ensconced at Columbia University protecting journalistic integrity, Mr. Liebermans not having to apologize for his pro-parent, pro-student views and hes helping to strike a pretty good deal with the White House.

The proposal, if made law, would force failing schools to meet state standards or face a number of reforms, including being turned into charter schools, reconstituting their staff, re-creating their curriculum or losing their students to other higher achieving public schools. As the proposal stands now, schools will be given a 10-year reform plan by each state with individualized goals for each institution to meet state standards. The plan, which is being championed by Mr. Lieberman and Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, among others, is still being negotiated and is expected to be taken up in the Senate after Congress returns from recess April 23.

Negotiators should work hard to ensure that students in the nation´s worst schools have as many education opportunities available to them as possible. In many cases, a few hours of extra tutoring may provide academic help, but will not be able to protect the child from an environment in which gangs, violence, or other factors harm the child.

Two months ago, President Bush unveiled his version of the proposal, which would allow parents with children in failing schools to use federal funds to send them to private schools, transport them to other public schools, or get other after-school or summer tutoring. Cities like Cleveland and Milwaukee, which are allowing more than 13,000 children to benefit from publicly funded vouchers, have shown that this would be an ideal solution to the nation´s many substandard schools. But Democrats, who typically support federal funding for public schools alone, are finding the proposal to be too great a compromise at this point. So they came back last week with their own concessions to a Republican counteroffer.

If the White House won´t receive its proposed vouchers for private schools, children in failing schools would be allowed to use a portion of their Title I money federal funds to states for education for private tutoring approved by states. A Democratic Senate staff member was afraid to use the word "vouchers" for the funds, which would be given directly to the providers, not the parents. But the concept is the same. The shift in 15 percent of each district´s Title I funds to transportation to another school or to tutoring options would serve as the first step toward putting better education options in the hands of parents.

Now that Mr. Lieberman has been unplugged, let´s hope he´ll bring his Senate colleagues with him.

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