As Congress moves to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), it is incumbent upon us to recognize and address the fatal flaws in our educational system.
When the Pilgrims left Holland to sail for the shores of the New World, it was no longer under the impetus of seeking religious freedom. Rather, while they had fled to Holland to escape religious persecution in England, they realized shortly thereafter the negative influence Holland's corrupt youth were bringing to bear upon their children. They recognized that as parents they were endowed with the solemn responsibility of laying the foundation that would determine the destinies of their children. And it was this understanding that compelled them to sacrifice every human comfort to ensure that the hearts and minds of their children were inculcated with "the just fear of God and love for fellow man."
Today, American parents face a similar dilemma, knowing that the spiritual, social, and academic principles instilled into the minds of our children will set the paradigm for America's future. Will we trust a government-run bureaucracy or the parents to determine those principles? I believe we must empower parents to choose the schools or educational opportunities they deem best for their children.
I was in the middle of this debate as it first sparked when I authored the Arizona Scholarship Tax Credit legislation in 1997. This incredibly successful dollar-for-dollar tax credit program has helped provide over 142,000 scholarships for children in its 9 year history. Last year alone, Arizona experienced an 11 percent increase in the number of donations to School Tuition Organizations. And since the inception of the Scholarship Tax Credit program, Arizona has become the leading state proponent for parental empowerment in education. Its program--both individual and corporate scholarship tax credits, more charter schools per capita than any other state, and open public school enrollment--have achieved inarguable success.
The Department of Education reports that about four million children are currently attending chronically failing schools, or, schools that have failed to achieve minimal state standards for six consecutive years. To address this educational crisis, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act stipulates that children attending a failing school can transfer to a higher-achieving school within the same district.
However, this provision fails to take two things into consideration. First, there are far more children attending failing schools than there are seats available at better-performing schools. For instance, in Los Angeles, approximately 2 in every 1,000 children attending a failing school have actually transferred, and nationwide this figure is about 1%. And second, many families who find themselves stuck in underachieving schools often do not have the financial flexibility to move to a better-achieving district or pay for a high-priced private school. In these situations, effective school-choice legislation gives low income families the same educational options as wealthy families.
Ironically, the leading voices in Congress opposing school choice legislation consistently choose to send their children to expensive, elite private schools. Yet they publicly oppose policies that would empower parents to make the same choice and secure a better educational environment for their children.
To that end, this week I have introduced the Children's Hope Act, which encourages states to enact their own state scholarship tax credits of $250 or more, by allowing residents of those states to receive an additional $100 federal tax credit. This legislation would require education investment organizations distribute at least half of their scholarships to low income children. This would allow taxpayers to voluntarily empower families and individuals with an opportunity to truly improve their child’s life and make a difference in their community.
The core principle of a free market society is that competition produces a higher quality product. Our education establishment is not exempt from this economic truth. On the contrary, studies show that not only do scholarship tax credits enjoy great popular support, but that those children who apply and receive them consistently show improved academic performance, while students who apply and fail to receive them do not. And, as might be expected, the effect of school choice competition on public schools has repeatedly resulted in improved public school performance.
Arizona is proof of what is possible when families are empowered to make their own educational choices. As we consider the most viable policies to incorporate in the NCLB, there has never been a better time for legislators to empower mothers and fathers (who love their children more than anyone else in the world) to make the educational choices they deem best.