GOP congressman, w/Boehner as co-sponsor, seeks nationwide school voucher program

While Governor Ted Strickland was declaring the end to the EdChoice voucher program in Ohio, Ohio Congressman John Boehner had co-sponsored legislation, HR 1486, that was introduced on 3/13/07 by Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon (CA-25), that would establish a nationwide voucher program.

From McKeon’s Townhall.com column on the bill:

My bill, the Empowering Parents through Choice Act, would provide expanded choice for parents whose children are trapped in schools consistently underperforming, showing little or no signs of improving. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Award scholarships of up to $4,000 to students attending schools identified as in need of restructuring under NCLB. Schools begin the process of restructuring after they fall short of making adequate progress under NCLB for five consecutive years;
  • Add a new option to NCLB’s accountability system to give school districts the flexibility to offer students attending schools that have entered restructuring scholarships in the amount of $4,000 to attend private schools of their choice; and
  • Allow states, school districts, and private and non-profit organizations to compete for additional funds dedicated to intensive supplemental educational services to children in schools identified for restructuring. Supplemental educational services – such as after-school tutoring – are provided outside of the regular school day and are based on high-quality research designed to help improve the student’s academic achievement.

As I’ve written before, and this explanation above demonstrates, the concept of vouchers, as these individuals are trying to enact them, offers only a false sense of assistance allegedly in the name of parental choice. Instead what such efforts would bring is endless transitions for students who will be moved from school to school as parents realize that $4000 won’t get them anywhere except, oh – yes, a religious education. How convenient.

Some people on both sides of the aisle talk about the money following the student. If the amount of money following the student allows actual choice, not just in theory, but for multiple options in which the voucher amount matches the school’s tuition, then maybe we’re talking.

Even so, however, if these legislators want $4K per student to come from the federal budget? And go to religious schools? Well, I don’t think so.

So, when McKeon says:

Will our bid to enact this school choice bill come up against some major obstacles – including the new Democrat Majority in Congress and an education establishment hanging on for dear life to the unacceptable status quo in our schools? Absolutely. But does that mean we’ll retreat? Never. The Opportunity Scholarship program in Washington, D.C. finally became law after years of battling to make it so. And it was worth it. For all of those children who find themselves mired in underperforming schools because of the “lucky lottery of life,” the battle will be worth waging on their behalf as well.

he has no idea.

Here’s Boehner’s statement on the bill.

Remind me, how does a program like this make government smaller and less involved in our lives? Isn’t that what Republicans are supposed to champion? They may say it’s all about parental choice, but with a mere $4K, it’s sounds more to me like parental constraint.

6 thoughts on “GOP congressman, w/Boehner as co-sponsor, seeks nationwide school voucher program

  1. That’s an excellent comment, Paul.What you drill down to – mobility – is something I too have gotten to when I think about this issue. But what you’re drilling down to, also, is personal choice, and who’s responsibility is it (if anyones) to figure out what will make someone do something that other people think is more desirable than what the person whom you’re trying to change is already doing?This concept is the crux of mental health intervention. People have to feel so uncomfortable that they have no other choice but to change.However, 1) the person has to usually be really, really almost unfathomably miserable and 2) people’s tolerance for a crappy life, depending on their religious zeal, can be pretty resilient.Now – does that mean we do tough love and drop the social supports we provide, via public or private dollars?Well – we’re human, and we like to believe humane. So, the likelihood of dropping social supports isn’t very high in this society – although obviously there are plenty of politicians willing to do a lot less, as well as those who want to do a lot more.And frankly, I think that choice – do more or do less – is driven by the level of sociopathology an individual possesses. The more you can detach yourself from the plight of others, the more we say you have no conscience.The more people tend to want to help, the more we say that those folks must feel guilty over what they have.Where people fall in terms of trying to set public school funding straight isn’t all that far off from this analysis, except that we couch the efforts in terms of economy: we want to create a better workforce and grow innovation and new industry and jobs and so on. All true, all worthy pursuits.But in the end, we’re still stuck with a finite amount of resources and have to make choices.If I were a conspiracy theorist when it comes to the origin of religion, I would say that the need to direct people as to whether they part with their resources on behalf of others, or not, is inextricably linked to the zealousness of some religions for certain types of solutions.

  2. Wow, Unique – those are two excellent points I’ve never really thought about before: 1) in many areas, there are no options other than the public schools and 2) private schools might still be underperforming. For sure, there are many, many private schools that can’t and won’t serve certain special needs populations – on both ends of the spectrum I might add.Remind me – why have you chosen to not use your local schools – do you feel that the best that your state has to offer still isn’t adequate?

  3. Dave – can you say more about the religious right/statists versus religious right/conservatives? I’m not familiar with the distinction. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Bad voucher ideas have given vouchers a bad name.Monopolies are rarely a good thing. Economists have a concept of ‘natural monopoly,’ which refers to a situation where the cost of infrastructure is so great that once one entity stakes out the territory, there is no economic incentive for a competitor to build a parallel infrastructure. For example, once one company builds a natural gas distribution network through a city, no one else will bother. Generally, when such a natural monopoly exists, the government takes the role of regulator to protect the consumers. Hence the ICC and its offspring, the FCC, and all the state public utility commissions.We used to think telephone networks were like this, which is why Congress granted AT&T monopoly status years ago. But technology changed (cable tv and cellular in particular) and now we have lots of choice in our local phone service — at least if you live in a metro area.We have a similar situation with the schools I think. Many believe school systems are a natural monopoly, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. In a metro area, in Ohio at least, we typically have a poor urban core surrounded by a collection of wealthy suburbs. This is nothing more than new age segregation, just as surely as if there were “po’ folks keep out” signs on the suburban town limits. I think one of two things should happen: a) all the metro area school districts should be merged and any kid in the district should be able to attend any school they want (transportation provided); or, b) every kid in the metro area is given a voucher worth the average per-student spending in the metro area, and that voucher can be used to pay 100% of the tuition in any school in any district in the area.In the rural areas, the situation is different. Population density is too low to afford much in the way of choice. Land values are low as well. But there are two distinct situations here too. In the case of agricultural areas, there is a sustainable economy with high employment, but not a lot of wealth (land poor as they say). It is reasonable public policy, in my opinion, to make it worth being a farmer, and if that means subsidizing the schools, so be it.But there are other rural areas which aren’t farmland, such as southeastern Ohio. My family settled in Lawrence County in the 1790s (my gggggrandfather was a Revolutionary War veteran), and there are many generations of my family buried there. But there aren’t so many of my relatives left there today. Just as my ancestors left Europe to seek a better economic climate, my generation bailed out of post-industrial Appalachia to find better places to raise our families. We should not subsidize the cost of living for families in places without a viable economy just because there are many who would rather take Welfare than move.Therein lays the most difficult problem of all. How do you incent the parents to go find a better place to live, yet not punish the kids of the parents who are too stupid or lazy to move?Sam Kinison once said we shouldn’t be sending food to Ethiopia, we should be sending them U-Hauls.Same idea.

  5. $4,000 doesn’t buy much in the world of private education.And it fails to address the issue that in some places there are no private schools to attend – period. No matter how much money you have, if there aren’t any private schools, your kids won’t be going because $4,000 sure won’t cover boarding school tuition.It’s also patently unfair to those who would choose private school with a little tuition help but their schools aren’t listed as *underperforming* It might still be a sucky school but hey, they know how to gig the system so their stats look good.My local schools top the charts in our state – but I still won’t send *my* kid there. They perform – but not to my satisfaction. Maybe my standards and expectations are higher than theirs. What do you think?

  6. As much as I favor vouchers in principle (but only as an improvement on the current situation), the idea of federal involvement here is appalling. Conservatives recognize that education is a state responsibility and that principle is where you will separate the religious right/statists and the religious right/conservatives.

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