U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today introduced a school choice amendment that would allow $14.5 billion in existing federal Title I education dollars to follow 11 million low-income children to any accredited school, public or private.
The senators said, "Under current law too often these education dollars don't reach the low-income children they're supposed to help. The simplest way to fix this is to allow the $1,300 per child in existing federal funding to follow children to the school they attend." Alexander and Paul are members of the senate's Health, Education Labor Committee and Alexander is the ranking Republican member.
Alexander said: "When dollars intended to help low-income children are diverted to other purposes, we deprive these children of their opportunity to attend a better school, which is the best way for them to move up the economic ladder. This amendment is the logical way to ensure that $14.5 billion in federal dollars is spent in the way Congress intended."
Paul said: "School choice for low-income parents and students across America is a way out of the poverty cycle. Allowing Title I funds to follow the student creates an opportunity for students to get the most out of their education in the best environment available."
The amendment is cosponsored by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Today, more than half of the nation's public schools receive Title I funding, which is money authorized in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to support the education of low-income children. The money goes directly to schools based on complicated and arbitrary federal rules based largely on teacher salary tables, instead of following individual students to the school they attend.
A 2006 report by the Fordham Foundation found that "money does not follow children to the schools they attend according to their needs. Instead, money flows on the basis of
factors that have little to do with the needs of students, the resources required to educate them successfully, or the educational preferences of their parents."
A 2008 report by the Center for American Progress explained: "The difference in actual school expenditures [is] often substantial because teachers' salaries are based on their experience and credits or degrees earned, and because high-poverty schools have many more less-experienced, lower-paid teachers and much more turnover than low-poverty schools." According to the report, in Baltimore "when teachers at one school in a high-poverty neighborhood were paid an average of $37,618, at another school in the same district, the average teacher's salary was $57,000."
Assuming the same number of teachers in each school--say 20--the difference in dollars available for the two schools is $387,640.
The senators said that under their amendment approximately $1,300 in existing federal Title I funds would follow each eligible child to the public school the child attends. If the child's parents instead chose an accredited private school, the $1,300 would follow the child to that school.