Federal program would finance private school tuitions under some circumstances
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said these provisions would help to fill what she sees as a gap in the federal No Child Left Behind law. Congress rejected a proposal in 2000 to include private school vouchers in the education bill.
By Scott Travis
A month after the Florida Supreme Court struck down vouchers for children at struggling schools, President Bush has proposed a new program that could bring them back.
Bush's budget, released Monday, includes $100 million for a new program that would allow students at some schools to receive $4,000 scholarships for private school tuition. Children who chose to remain in their public schools could receive $3,000 for outside tutoring. Congress would have to approve the measure.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that it was unconstitutional to use state money for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which provided vouchers for students to attend private schools. But the law applies only to state money, not federal money, so Florida students would be eligible for the proposed federal program, said Chad Colby, a U.S. Department of Education spokesman.
"I think it's phenomenal," said Alia Faraj, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush. "Gov. Bush is great supporter of opportunity scholarships. He feels that it empowers parents and students to make the choices that best meet their educational needs."
Gov. Bush is trying to find a way to bring back the state's voucher program, either legislatively or through a constitutional amendment, Faraj said.
The federal proposal would likely meet opposition from the state's teachers union, which has voiced concern that private school vouchers siphon money away from public schools.
"The state Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers don't fly," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association. "This federal rule is just a way around state law, and we would definitely be opposed to it."
If approved by Congress, the scholarships would be available to students in schools that have been deemed by the state as in need of improvement for six years straight. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said these provisions would help to fill what she sees as a gap in the federal No Child Left Behind law. Congress rejected a proposal in 2000 to include private school vouchers in the education bill.
"We are now five years into implementation and have seen some good progress, but there are still intractable educational situations where parents need options," Spellings said in a teleconference from Washington, D.C. "Without real consequences, accountability is hollow."
Spellings said there are about 1,000 schools nationwide that fall under the category of failing to meet standards for six years. None are in Florida, although there are some schools that have failed to meet standards for four straight years. These schools could be affected during the 2006-07 school year if they fail to show enough improvement, federal officials said.
Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale is one school that has failed to meet the federal government's adequate yearly progress standards for four years. Palm Beach County has four such schools: West Riviera and Lincoln elementary schools in Riviera Beach, Pahokee Middle-Senior and Glades Central High in Belle Glade.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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