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New Education Accounts Bypass Bureaucracy & Empower Parents

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New Education Accounts Bypass Bureaucracy & Empower Parents
October 21, 2005

Few things are more frustrating than bureaucracy. For example, when dealing with the federal government it's easy to feel like you're yelling at a brick wall. For the more than 300,000 Gulf Coast children who have lost their homes, their schools, and everything they know in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we need to do better.

Not surprisingly, public, private, and charter schools across the country have been driving hurricane relief efforts, opening their doors and welcoming displaced students as their own. That leaves Washington with a simple choice: we can help these schools and the displaced students by providing direct aid to parents and families. Or we can continue writing blank checks to existing government bureaucracies.

I for one would rather help the schools and the students. This is why I, along with Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), have introduced legislation that proposes a new vision for the education relief effort: one that will provide meaningful assistance to the public, private, and charter schools struggling to cope with the effects of the hurricanes.

Here's how it works: for one year, the federal government would establish Family Education Reimbursement Accounts for the children and families displaced by the storms. These accounts would bypass the usual bureaucracy and provide assistance directly to the schools and families most affected by the hurricanes.

The accounts would be simple for families to create and simple for schools to receive reimbursement. Parents would register through the Internet or a toll-free number to create an account for the family, which would be available for use by each child from pre-K to 12th grade. Parents would then provide their account number to the school, and the school would use that information to be reimbursed. That's all there is to it.

After creating the account and providing the account number to the school, parents would not have to take any additional steps. Schools would receive direct, electronic payment for the time a child is enrolled without having to navigate complex payment systems or cut through any red tape. At the end of the school year, the accounts would be closed and any unused funds would be immediately credited back to the federal government.

Of course, in the aftermath of the storm parents enrolled their children in whatever schools were willing to take them in: public, private, and charter schools alike. The reimbursement accounts therefore would not punish the private or charter schools that opened their doors (often at free or reduced tuition) -- instead, they would provide the same reimbursement for all affected children. The hurricanes did not distinguish between public and private schools or students, and neither should the assistance that Congress provides them.

One of the lasting lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is that, on so many levels, bureaucracies have proven inadequate. Leadership is about demonstrating the willingness to look beyond the status quo and provide a bold, new vision. More than 300,000 children displaced by the hurricanes deserve that most of all. We should not disappoint them.

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