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NCLB Outrages

Voucher supporters look to new ally

Ohanian Comment: Someone wrote me yesterday, "So goes California, so everybody else should watch out!"

Comments from Annie: The educational business associates and voucher advocates are pressing ahead with legal battles for their right to the revenues promised by the NCLB act.

Although Secretary Spellings responds with encouragement for the profit-hungering groups, she asks for their patience as it takes a little time to fully privatize what has long existed as a public, not for profit, national school system.

By Greg Toppo

Advocacy groups that support taxpayer-financed vouchers are taking a new tack: using requirements of President Bush's No Child Left Behind school reform law to force the government to pay private school tuitions.

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.

Gary Larson of the California Charter Schools Association noted that the Los Angeles district has 86 charter schools, serving one in 20 students.

Dozens more are expected to open in the next several months, he says, but thousands of city students remain on waiting lists for charter school slots.

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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