Richmond Academy

Bush 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.

BUSH HAS 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.
       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 students.
       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 model nationwide.
       “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

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Last modified: May 30, 2003