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Group Sets Sights on Doubling Number of Voucher Students in Private Schools

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The Walton Family Foundation today announced a $6 million investment in the Alliance for School Choice in order to double the number of students participating in private- school choice programs such as tax-credit scholarships and vouchers in the next five years.

The money will go toward education and outreach initiatives that aim to inform community members and stakeholders about vouchers, tax-credit-scholarships, and other forms of private- school choice, said Kevin Chavous, the executive counsel to the American Federation for Children, in an interview with Education Week. The American Federation for Children is the sister organization of the Washington-based Alliance for School Choice, a nonprofit group that advocates for and supports the expansion of school choice programs nationwide, which received the investment.

Currently 300,000 students in 18 states and the District of Columbia participate in school choice programs that allow them to obtain public funds that can then be used for school tuition. Spurred by the Walton Family Foundation's investment, the Alliance for School Choice hopes to grow that number to 600,000 students by 2017.

Chavous feels that the time is right for such a push. "People are willing to look at other approaches because they're tired of waiting for the system to change," he said. "People are becoming more open to these options, and we wanted to seize on that."

While the money will not go toward political action, such as lobbying for legislation to expand school choice, it will be used for outreach to form partnerships with grassroots community organizations to inform community members of school choice programs that may be available to them, said Chavous.

Of course, not everyone agrees that such programs should be expanded. This announcement comes just a day after the public release of a state audit of the voucher program in Louisiana revealing financial and logistical mismanagement and calling for a greater amount of oversight of the program. Last month, a report from the Government Accountability Office also highlighted a slew of weaknesses in the management and implementation of the voucher program in the nation's capital.

And a PDK/Gallup poll this summer indicated that the majority of Americans (70 percent) oppose vouchers for private school tuition, although the poll was criticized by pro-voucher groups for the wording and design of its questions. 

(The Walton Family Foundation previously supported Education Week's coverage of parent-empowerment issues.)

Follow @EWKatieAsh to keep up with the latest school choice and charter school news on Twitter. 

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