Rand Paul pushes federal school vouchers

Sen. Rand Paul (By Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
(By Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Sen. Rand Paul, a rising star in the Republican Party, is pushing for a federal voucher program that sounds similar to one advanced by Mitt Romney when he was running for president.

Paul, from Kentucky, co-sponsored an amendment to Senate budget legislation with Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee who was once secretary of education. The “school choice” amendment calls for using $14.5 billion in current Title 1 funds, which are targeted to students who attend high-poverty schools, to cover 11 million students, at $1,300 per child. The money would follow a student at any accredited public or private student a family chooses.

During the last presidential campaign, Republican candidate Romney talked about how education funding should “follow the child” — a euphemism for a system of vouchers that would give public money to families to pay for tuition at private schools, religious and otherwise.

The latest, biggest experiment with vouchers is in Louisiana, where state officials approved scores of private schools to accept voucher students, even though many didn’t have the teachers, facilities or supplies to handle them. Many of the schools teach creationist principles, such as the co-existence of dinosaurs and humans within the past 10,000 years.

The Paul-Alexander amendment stipulates that the money can only go to accredited schools, but there are all kinds of organizations that say they “accredit” schools.

Opponents, such as the nonprofit group Parents Across America, say the legislation would send public money to private and charter schools where there is less public oversight than in traditional public schools.

President Obama opposes vouchers, saying that public money should not be used at private schools.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · March 25, 2013