- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

The House yesterday rejected President Bushs private school choice plan for children trapped in chronically failing public schools while passing his education reform package 383-45.
On a 273-155 vote, the House blocked a move by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, to restore the presidents school choice provision struck from the House bill in committee.
Mr. Bush made school choice and reform of public schools a top priority in last years presidential campaign. After defeating the school choice plan, House Democrats and three dozen Republicans also rejected, 241-186, a scaled-down $50 million plan for school choice demonstration projects in five school systems throughout the country.
Opponents argued that federally funded private school choice options detracted from needed reform of public schools and would permit academically disadvantaged students to transfer to private schools that would be exempt from federal testing accountability requirements.
Mr. Armey countered that low-income parents should have the same option that wealthy families have for private schooling when public schools fail their children. His proposal would have given parents the right to use their childrens share of federal Title I funds — estimated at about $640 per year — for private school choice if they attended failing public schools for three years in a row.
"Give them that chance to choose, to take their baby from harms way," Mr. Armey told the House. "There are 6,000 chronically failing schools … where all our mandating and prescribing and posturing is not doing much good. Children are stuck in those schools registered at the Department of Education as chronic failures."
Mr. Armey said the vast majority of students trapped in failing public schools are from low-income families and a private school option would tell them "you have a chance to do what the rich folks do."
But Democrats countered that parents choosing private schools should not be subsidized with federal funds. "This amendment has no accountability in it, no tests, no trail, no nothing," said Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat.
Mr. Armey responded, "We dont ask private schools to be accountable to the government but to be accountable to the parents."
Rep. Marge Roukema, New Jersey Republican, said that the House education bill would send federal education policy "in exactly the opposite direction" of Mr. Bushs plan to "leave no child behind."
"It will be taking money away from the [public school] system and leaving the rest of the children behind in failing schools," she said.
However, opponents of the school choice provisions in the bill said that it would siphon money away from public education, undermining the public school system.
"This amendment is an invitation for school fraud, not school choice," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat.
"Its a cop-out, its a surrender," said Rep. Patsy T. Mink, Hawaii Democrat. "We ought to be building up public schools."
Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said Mr. Bushs private school choice provisions were "about fairness, about equity… . Its common knowledge we already have school choice in this country except for poor children."
The bill passed by the House after two days of amendments increases federal funding for the nations elementary and secondary schools from $18.4 billion to $22.6 billion next year. Title I funding for school districts serving low-income students would increase from $8.6 billion this year to $17.2 billion in fiscal 2006.
The bill consolidates or eliminates 34 of 66 existing federal education programs and creates six new programs proposed by Mr. Bush, including two reading initiatives for preschool and elementary students and required reading and math achievement testing of all students in grades three through eight.
The conservative Heritage Foundation praised the House bill for including more of Mr. Bushs proposed reforms than a Senate bill drafted primarily by Sens. James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
"The House committee bill would focus education spending on results, both by requiring annual testing to gauge academic achievement and by dedicating resources to make changes where needed, and would break with the status quo by enabling parents to choose better schools for their children and empowering state reformers to devise ways to better serve their students," the foundation said in an analysis of House and Senate bills.
The House bill permits parents to choose alternative public schools for their children, even outside their school districts, if their own schools fail to provide academic achievement or safe learning environments.
If a school does not make adequate yearly progress after one year under the House-passed bill, the local school district must take corrective actions to improve the school and immediately offer alternative public school choice to all students in the failing school.
The House bill also permits parents to use federal Title I funds to provide remedial reading and supplementary tutoring and summer school services — including help from faith-based organizations — to compensate for deficiencies in public schools.
The House yesterday also voted 246-181 to drop federal requirements that prevent school officials from disciplining disabled or handicapped students who menace schools with violent acts, guns or illegal drugs.
Lawmakers also voted 361-67 to require states to provide annual reports of all schools that need improvement.
Under White House pressure, Rep. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, withdrew an amendment that would have given seven states and 25 local school districts authority to spend federal money with few restrictions under agreements with the Department of Education to show specified improvement in student performance.
The Senates bill includes similar provisions, but House Democrats objected, saying the block grant approach would divert funds from poor school districts.

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