Bill Watch: ESSA Repeal and Voucher-Like System Proposed by Iowa Rep

Aaron Keel

By Aaron Keel, MASB Assistant Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, March 1, 2017

At the end of January, House Resolution 610 was introduced in Congress by Rep. Steve King (R-IA). The legislation, commonly referred to as the Choices in Education Act, has garnered much attention online and in the media, but it is unclear if or when the legislation could move forward. It is now sitting in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The bill repeals the recently passed Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and limits the authority of the U.S. Department of Education to only award block grants to states. Further, the bill establishes an education voucher program, where each state would distribute block grant funds among local districts based on the number of eligible children within each geographical area.

From these amounts, each local district would be required to distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or homeschool them, and to do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses. To be eligible to receive this block grant from the DOE, a state must comply with education voucher program requirements, and make it lawful for parents of an eligible child to elect to enroll them in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the state or to homeschool them. The bill also repeals a specified rule that established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs.

In her confirmation testimony for the position, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos left the door open for public money to flow to private and charter schools. Some are reading this legislation as a strong message and potential first step. MASB opposes this measure and any other voucher-like system.

Additionally, Michigan voters have spoken on this issue and the message is clear—taxpayer dollars should not be used to support private schools. This legislation is in contradiction to that message and appears to go against the prohibition of using public funds for private institutions in Michigan’s State Constitution.

Private schools are not required to follow the same laws or standards as our public schools, especially when it comes to areas such as special education. To allow public money to be used in a private school that has the ability to charge tuition and still may not have the specialized teachers or resources to meet a student’s individual needs is an abuse of public resources and a disservice to the children of Michigan. Instead, we should be focused on providing a more "level playing field" so that all schools that receive public funds are held to the same accountability standards and can be appropriately compared.

MASB supports the full range of choices offered by our public school districts, and we also encourage a balanced dialogue on evidence-based choice options to help our nation's efforts to assure every student is prepared for college, careers and citizenship.  

We will keep you updated if this harmful measure begins to move forward.

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