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The Greenville News - Success in School Translates inot Success in Life

Location: Greenville, SC

The Greenville News - Success in School Translates inot Success in Life

By Jim DeMint

March 21st, 2006 - The Greenville News

A wise businessman once said the problem with many failing companies is not that they don't know enough about how to run their business, but rather that they waste all their time and energy defending what they already know, instead of being willing to figure out what they still need to learn. Unfortunately, too often this is exactly what happens in the debate over our public education system.

I've never met anyone, Republican or Democrat, who wants anything other than the best for our schools. With all this agreement, I find it sad that new ideas are often met with distrust and hostility by those with a vested interest in the current way we do business. While everyone agrees there are serious flaws in our schools that must be addressed, very few seem willing to engage in an honest debate about real solutions.

That's not good for our education system and it shortchanges our children. That is why I am traveling across South Carolina this week to engage students, teachers, parents and community leaders in a discussion of some simple, yet innovative ideas that I believe can make a significant difference in the way we are preparing our students for life.

We must do everything in our power to allow local and state governments more flexibility to reward successful schools, make scholarships available for students in chronically failing schools, address our growing high school drop-out rate by extending Pell grants to disadvantaged students to encourage them to acquire real-world skills and promote financial literacy.

It is essential that we have a flexible and responsive education system that trains students with skills that can adapt in an ever-changing world. Under the president's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, schools all over the country are now being held accountable for their students' success. And while I am proud of the strides that have been made under NCLB, when it comes before Congress for reauthorization in 2007, we should be smarter and more flexible in how we demand accountability. If a school is showing measurable improvement, let's allow them to keep doing what is working and not add more red tape.

We must also continue to educate parents about options existing under NCLB and work to expand those options so that parents can explore public, private and charter school choices. In his 2007 budget proposal, President Bush recognized this problem and called for the creation of Opportunity Scholarships. Through this program, students in schools that have failed to meet adequate yearly progress under NCLB for six years would be allotted $4,000 to attend a private school or $3,000 to receive personalized tutoring. Opportunity Scholarships are already meeting with success in our nation's capital, where approximately 1,700 students participate in the program and nearly 1,000 more have applied.

With only 53 percent of South Carolina students completing high school, we must continue to search for ways to engage students' interest and make them active participants in the learning process. That is why I propose expanding Pell grants to allow disadvantaged high school students to take classes at local universities and technical colleges. These merit-base grants would allow students to pursue their unique interests and encourage them to continue their education.

Financial literacy instruction is another commonsense component that is sadly lacking in our current education curriculum. It is imperative that we teach students fundamental financial principles such as understanding the critical importance of saving or how some credit card companies prey on unsuspecting consumers.

From balancing a checkbook to reading a credit report, basic financial literacy could be effectively conveyed by successful local entrepreneurs, yet too often some districts shut these expert "teachers" out of the classroom because they are not properly certified. This untapped resource could provide meaningful "real world" applications for students and is something states need to explore.

While no one person has all the answers to the difficult questions facing our education system, I call on officials at all levels of government to join me in restoring good faith to this debate. The current strategy of simply blocking new ideas and blaming others for poor results will lead to nothing but more of the same: underperforming schools and an unprepared work force.

In the dynamic, uncharted territory of the global economy of the 21st century, we must realize that funding public education does not have to mean a business-as-usual education model. While we can never guarantee our students a lifetime of employment, we must be willing to debate and invest in innovative yet commonsense ideas that will ensure they have the necessary skills for a lifetime of employability. Only then will success in school truly mean success in life.

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