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GOP House Leader Pushes School Choice, College Affordability

School choice—including expanding charter schools—and college affordability will be high on Republicans' to-do list, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the Majority Leader and second-highest ranking GOP member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said today.

Cantor didn't give a lot of details on just how he plans to advance those goals in a broad speech laying out his agenda for the new Congress at the American Enterprise Institute this afternoon. But he did bring along a parent, Joseph Kelley, whose son, Rashawn, made successful use of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program to help make his points about school choice. Here's a snippet from Cantor's speech, based on prepared remarks:

Within two years at a private school, Rashawn caught up to his classmates, and is now a student at the University of the District of Columbia. And his sisters, Domonique, Shakeyta, and Rhunetta, are attending the Preparatory School of DC and are on a similar path to opportunity. 

I visited this school yesterday, and it is impressive. The kids are in a safe environment, with great teachers, terrific administrators, small class sizes and a mission that every kid succeeds. 

No one should deny Rashawn and his sisters this opportunity. Joseph Kelley, nor any parent, should have to wait for failing school systems to get their acts together. Throughout the country there are promising signs that we can bring schools and parents together to improve our educational system.

Cantor also singled out San Francisco's move towards "weighted student funding" as a way to entice schools to improve and to attract vulnerable populations, such students with disabilities and English-language learners. More from the speech, as outlined in the prepared remarks:

Imagine if we were to try and move in this direction with federal funding. Allow the money we currently spend to actually follow individual children. Students, including those without a lot of money or those with special needs, would be able to access the best available school, not just the failing school they are assigned to.

And Cantor spoke about the promise of charter schools—one of the few K-12 policies on which House lawmakers were able to come to a bipartisan accord last session. But Cantor did not specify just how lawmakers should further bolster charter schools.

He also gave rhetorical support to overhauling the nation's college financial aid system, citing a bipartisan proposal, put forth by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would bring more transparency to college outcomes by calling for new data on things like salaries of recent graduates.

Cantor, who also spoke about allowing parents to work more flexible schedules in order to be more involved in their children's lives, hasn't been closely associated with education policy in the past. And the word "education" didn't even appear in the House Republicans' initial outline of their agenda when they took over the House back in 2001.

So new emphasis on school policy in the speech may signal a shift in priorities. Some see the speech as the emblematic of the GOP's effort to win over female voters, the majority of whom supported President Barack Obama.

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