renews school-voucher push
President backs bill to provide ‘school choice’ to kids in D.C.
WASHINGTON, July 1 — President
Bush renewed his push for school vouchers on Tuesday, backing legislation that
would give District of Columbia children private-school tuition grants and, Bush
hopes, spark new momentum nationwide for such programs.
RARELY spoken out for vouchers since Congress rejected his proposal two years
ago to strip federal funds from the worst-performing schools and make them
available to parents for private education vouchers.
On Tuesday, he gave an impassioned new call for such programs, which are
beloved by conservatives.
“We cannot have a two-tiered education system in America — one tier for
those who can afford a certain type of school and one tier for those who can’t,”
Bush said. “So this plan is an attempt to say the two-tiered deal is over with.”
Critics, including teachers unions, say vouchers drain money from public
schools and too often end up supporting religious schools.
Bush is backing a bill that would allocate $75 million of his 2004 budget
for a national “school choice” incentive plan, open to several cities. Of that,
$15 million would go to District of Columbia schools.
D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS TARGETED
The legislation sponsored by Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., would provide
$7,500 a year to lower-income D.C. children enrolled in targeted public schools.
Davis and Bush say the program could reach at least 2,000 of the city’s 67,000
public school students.
“It is the beginning of an experiment that will show whether or not
private-school choice makes a difference in quality education in public schools.
I happen to believe it will,” Bush said at a charter school known as KIPP DC:
Key Academy, in a low-income neighborhood in Southeast Washington.
KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, runs 15 schools around
the country that have won praise for raising test scores among low-income
The schools set rigorous behavior and academic effort standards, have
nine-hour days and operate 11 months a year.
Bush said he hoped the D.C. component of the program would serve as a
“The change will cause folks to want to invigorate their own curriculum
and to figure out what’s going right or wrong,” Bush said. “It certainly shakes
the system up, and it sounds like to me the system needs to be shaken up if
you’re not doing as well as you should be here in Washington, D.C.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress released reading scores
last month that showed students in D.C. Public Schools scoring lower than
students in any of the 50 states. The NAEP tests are mandated by the U.S.
Department of Education and are given every other year in reading and
mathematics to students in grades four and eight.
Court upholds school vouchers