Friday, March 24, 2006

From Our No Child Left Behind Files

Several organizations are eager to use certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act in order to push for private school vouchers:
In a move that could preview future battles, a pair of advocacy groups plan to file complaints today in two urban Southern California school districts, arguing that vouchers are needed to force districts to meet requirements for quality education.

Congress rejected vouchers during debate of the law in 2001, but many free-market reformers — as well as a few activists representing urban schoolchildren — say kids in struggling public schools should be able to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

The law requires that children in schools where average test scores don't rise from year to year be given the option of publicly financed tutoring or transfers to a better-performing public school. But Clint Bolick of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, one of two groups filing the complaint, says Los Angeles Unified School District and nearby Compton Unified School District "are not complying with that requirement."

He says the Los Angeles district has "very, very cumbersome application procedures and very tight time deadlines" for transfers, which he says discourage parents from applying. Los Angeles, he says, also heavily markets tutoring services in which it has a financial stake. Compton, he says, neither advertises tutoring options nor permits transfers to better-performing public schools, "so not a single child has transferred, even though there are thousands of kids in failing schools in Compton."

Bolick's group and the Los Angeles-based Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education will ask U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to consider withholding federal money from the two districts if they don't expand options.

Officials of the two districts didn't immediately respond to requests for comments.

Bolick wants the two districts to offer more independently run charter schools, which the law allows, and to offer vouchers and transfers to other public school districts — two provisions not included in the law.

"We think it's a serious failing of the law that it does not include private school options or inter-district transfers, and the administration seems to support that," he says.

Spellings said last month that four years after Bush signed the law, vouchers are "an idea whose time has come." It was the first time she closely linked the law with vouchers. "There are still intractable educational situations where parents need options," she said Feb. 6, when she unveiled the Education Department's proposed 2007 budget. It includes $100 million for tutoring and "school choice" programs, including vouchers.

Spellings didn't comment on the complaint Wednesday, but her spokesman, Kevin Sullivan, said in a statement, "We can all do a better job — the (Education) Department, states and school districts — to make sure strong public school choice and tutoring options are available to all parents, as provided by No Child Left Behind."

Most mainstream education activists reject vouchers as a bid to weaken public education by diverting scarce cash to private schools.
I'm all in favor of public school choice, but I'm not convinced that private school vouchers are the best way to go.

On the other hand, our only child, (the 14-year-old TeenWonk) is not consigned to having to attend a violence-plagued inner-city school....
See this week's edition of The Carnival of education here and our latest posts over there.