U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) unveiled separate bills that would free up federal education funds to follow students to the schools of their choice at an event today at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.
Sen. Alexander's proposal, dubbed the Scholarships for Kids Act, would consolidate funding from 80 federal education programs (excluding the free- and reduced-price lunch program and funding for students with special needs) into one lump sum of $24 billion. That money would then be distributed to states as $2,100 scholarships that would follow low-income children to schools of their choice.
This move, which Sen. Alexander compared to the Pell grants used in higher education, would affect 11 million students.
"There would be no better way to help children move up from the back of the line than by allowing states to use federal dollars to create 11 million new opportunities to choose a better school," said Sen. Alexander when he unveiled the proposal.
States would be in charge of setting their own rules around how the money is distributed, said Alexander, such as whether or not the funds could be used at private schools, and if so, which private schools could participate.
Sen. Scott's proposal, called the CHOICE—or Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education—act would make funds from IDEA (or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) more portable for students with special needs to apply to schools of their choice. It would also create a pilot voucher program for students on military bases and expand the private-school voucher program in the nation's capital.
Like Sen. Alexander's proposal, the CHOICE act would allow states to set their own rules and guidelines for how the money would be distributed.
Whether or not such bills, which tend to be supported by Republicans, can pass a Democratic Senate is yet to be seen. But Sen. Scott said he would be meeting with U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, a vocal school choice supporter, to see if the bills could find support in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
"We think it's a great opportunity for us to fuse our agendas together in the areas of education and see more promise come out of that agenda," he said.
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