- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

President Bush is finally changing the way Washington views education. After eight years of simply talking about a failed education system, this president is doing something about it. Under his leadership, politicians are beginning to realize that schools need to be held responsible for what they do — or fail to do.
But the old guard still resists change. Clinging to their failed ideas, defenders of the educational status quo last week successfully removed a key component in the presidents reform plan school choice.
But choice should be at the heart of education reform. School choice gives those with the most powerful interest in children the parents the ability to make the most important decisions in that childs education.
Choice spurs competition. And competition sparks innovation, productivity and academic rigor. Without it, theres no incentive to improve. Without it, hopes fade and dreams of the future dissolve into visions of harsh reality. We cant let that continue.
So I will offer an amendment on the House floor as early as today restoring all of the presidents school choice provisions. If we are serious about leaving no child behind, then we must give low-income parents whose children are trapped in chronically failing schools the power to pull ahead.
Public schools today have an education monopoly often locking in parents who cannot either move or afford private school tuition. Facing very little competition, public schools have little incentive to improve their performance.
My amendment addresses this very real problem. Empowering parents with education options will create an incentive structure for schools to attract and retain students by providing a quality education. If a school fails in this task, parents will abandon it, taking their money with them.
American families agree. A recent poll found that two out of three Americans support the presidents proposal giving parents the option to send their child to a better performing school.
For whatever reason, the liberal elite continues to deny low-income parents a way out. One National Education Association (NEA) newsletter recently complained, "Competition is okay for breakfast cereals, but disastrous for schools."
What makes them say that? This isnt an issue of changing schools that work. Its about fixing schools that fail.
Its not as if school choice is an untested concept. On the college level, choice, accountability and competition thrive. Every summer, students and parents rate colleges to decide which institution is right for them. In fact, colleges and universities wear their national rankings like a badge of honor.
Why should it be any different for elementary and secondary schools? The issue is about more than just giving parents an alternative; its about giving them hope.
For poor children trapped in sub-standard schools, a good education in a safe environment is a distant dream. These children attend schools that cant even guarantee their safety, much less teach them.
The results of educational neglect are staggering. Today, nearly 70 percent of inner-city and rural 4th graders cannot read at a basic level. What hope of a better life do they have if they cant escape the very system that holds them back?
The Carnegies and Rockefellers of America will never know what it means to have their children learn in a dysfunctional or dangerous school. Low-income parents shouldnt be denied the same opportunities to choose a better future for their children.
Its time to unlock the power of parents and give every American family the right to choose a school that best meets the needs of their children.
For too long, the debate over educating our nations children has centered around Big Government solutions. Education is not about politics in Washington, its about children in schools. President Bush and I trust parents to fix the education system, not government.

Rep. Dick Armey, a Republican from Texas, is House majority leader.

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