As expected, the House of Representatives did its part to advance President George W. Bush’s voucher plan for the District of Columbia, passing a $328 billion omnibus spending bill in a special, one-day session in early December.
The bill, H.R. 2673, included a landmark $13 million school choice program for the nation’s capital. It passed by a vote of 242-176. The bill’s next, and next-to-last, stop before becoming law will be a vote in the Senate, expected to take place in late January.
“School choice will make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of low-income children. Choice should not be limited to families with the means to make a choice…,” noted Representative Tom Davis (R-Virginia), one of the plan’s main sponsors and supporters.
“I have traditionally opposed federal dollars going to private schools because I think federal dollars ought to be targeted to public schools,” Davis added. “But, for the District, I think we have to ask this question: Wouldn’t more choices funded by new federal dollars provide a needed alternative for low-income children attending low-performing schools?”
Davis noted the school choice language contained $40 million in new federal education funding for the District, including $13 million for teacher training and recruitment and improving student achievement. Overall, the omnibus bill gave the District a $545 million boost in federal aid as part of its $5.6 billion 2004 budget.
The delayed passage of the DC choice plan caused many observers to worry it would not be able to get off the ground in time for the 2004-2005 school year.
Second Consecutive Clean Audit
In December, Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced that, for the second consecutive year, his department had earned a “clean” financial audit in accordance with standard accounting principles. The encouraging verdict by national accounting firm Ernst & Young was only the Department of Education’s third in its entire 23-year history.
Paige and his chief financial officer, Jack Martin, described the clean audit as an important result of adhering to President Bush’s official Management Agenda. The department has instituted new quarterly senior management financial reports, applied new internal controls and management policies, and corrected “several potential areas of concern” referenced in last year’s audit.
In 2003, then-Deputy Secretary of Education William Hansen outlined several new financial management initiatives in testimony before Representative Pete Hoekstra’s (R-Michigan) Select Subcommittee on Education. Those initiatives included modernizing student aid delivery, improving default loan recovery targets, ending credit card abuses, issuing new policies for department purchases and travel, and following a number of other steps toward establishing a “culture of accountability.”
McKeon Launches “College Cost Central”
The House Education Committee, along with its 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-California), recently announced its new “College Cost Central” Web site.
Described as “a resource for parents, students, and taxpayers fed up with the rising cost of higher education,” the Web site invites comments and suggestions as the committee prepares for new higher education legislation in 2004. The site can be found at http://www.edworkforce.house.gov and includes a survey and comment form.
“As a matter of principle,” said McKeon, “every student deserves the right to pursue his or her education goals. However, lack of financial resources continues to prevent millions of highly qualified students each year from attending college.”
Teaching American History Grant Program
Also in December, the Department of Education announced it would be accepting applications for its Teaching American History grant program. Although final appropriations levels had yet to be set by Congress, it was expected the program would offer $100 million in new awards.
The program is designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of traditional American history. Local Education Agencies (LEAs), including charter schools considered LEAs under state law, are eligible to submit applications by March 2, 2004. The average size of each grant is expected to be $250,000 per year for three years.
A major program priority is that projects address “traditional American history.” Applications could, for example, teach significant issues, episodes, and turning points in the history of the United States, and how the words and deeds of individual Americans have determined the nation’s course.
“This history,” describes the grant announcement, “teaches how the principles of freedom and democracy, articulated in our founding documents, have shaped–and continue to shape–America’s struggles and achievements, as well as its social, political, and legal institutions.”
Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute (http://www.lexingtoninstitute.org). His email address is [email protected].
For more information …
Information on the Teaching American History Grant Program is available from the December 23, 2003 Federal Register at http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/announcements/2003-4/122303d.html.