Friday, March 23, 2001

House GOP plans to fight for vouchers

Their bill would clash with Senate's

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — House Republicans released an education-reform package Thursday that closely follows the vision of President Bush, seeking to require states to test students more often and to give parents vouchers if their children stagnate in failing public schools.

        Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the federal government should provide incentives for public schools to improve and then hold state and local officials accountable.

        “The hard lesson of the past is that money alone cannot be the vehicle for change in our schools,” Mr. Boehner said.

        The package sets up a collision with a competing plan in the Senate, which does not include school vouchers. Mr. Boehner said House Republicans would fight to keep the voucher provision alive.

        “There has to be a safety valve at the end of this process,” he said.

        Under the House proposal, states would be required to test public-school students every year from the third through the eighth grades. Poorly performing schools would receive financial and technical assistance but would face penalties — including possible state takeovers — if school officials made no progress after three years. Parents of low-income students at these schools would be able receive about $1,500 in federal money to transfer to another public school or a private school, or pay for tutoring.

        The Senate proposal, which passed a committee vote there unanimously, would allow parents of children in failing schools to transfer them to another public school, but it would not provide vouchers.

        Though some Democrats have influence over education policy, the real negotiations now are between moderates such as Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and conservatives such as Mr. Boehner, who once wanted to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education.

        Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, described the Senate version as a more constructive approach.

        “This simply defies common sense and the public's demand that schools receive the support they need to be successful,” he said of the House Republican package.

        Janet Baker, superintendent of Hamilton schools, said many local school districts have taken steps to improve student achievement and teacher quality.

        In Hamilton, parents are already allowed to transfer their children to any public school within the district, which gives parents some flexibility.

        “I think people are looking at one extreme or the other,” she said of the voucher argument. “We believe there are ways of offering choice to families within the public school setting.”


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