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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S. 1551

Location: Washington, DC

July 31, 2003

By Mr. McCain.

    S. 1551. A bill to provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

    Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, today, I am pleased to reintroduce legislation to authorize a three-year nationwide school choice demonstration program targeted at children from economically disadvantaged families. The Excellence Through Choice to Elevate Learning Act, or the EXCEL Act, will expand educational opportunities for low-income children by providing parents and students the freedom to choose the best school for their unique academic needs while encouraging schools to be creative and responsive to the needs of all students.

    This bill authorizes $1.8 billion annually for fiscal years 2004 through 2007 to be used to provide school choice vouchers to economically disadvantaged children throughout the nation. The funds allocated by the bill will be divided among states based upon the number of children they have enrolled in public schools. States will then conduct a lottery among low-income children who attend the public schools with the lowest academic performance in their State. Each child selected in the lottery would receive $2,000 per year for three years to be used to pay tuition at any school of their choice in the State, including private or religious schools. The money could also be used to pay for transportation to the school or supplementary educational services to meet the unique needs of the individual student.

    In total, this bill authorizes $5.4 billion for the three-year school choice demonstration program, as well as an evaluation of the program by the General Accounting Office. The cost of this important test of school vouchers is fully offset by eliminating more than $5.4 billion in unnecessary pork and inequitable corporate tax loopholes.

    We all know that one of the most important issues facing our nation is the education of our children. We must strive to develop and implement initiatives which strengthen and improve our education system thereby ensuring that our children are provided with the essential academic tools for succeeding professionally, economically and personally. I am sure we all agree that increasing the academic performance and skills of all our nation's students must be the paramount goal of any education reform we implement.

    School vouchers are a viable method of allowing all American children access to high quality schools, including private and religious schools. Every parent, not just the wealthy, should be able to obtain the highest quality education for their children. Tuition vouchers would provide low-income children trapped in poor or mediocre schools the same educational choices as children of economic privilege.

    Some of my colleagues may argue that vouchers would divert money away from our Nation's public schools. They will claim it is better to pour more and more money into poor performing public schools, rather than promote competition in our school systems. I respectfully disagree. While I support strengthening financial support for education in our nation, the solution to what ails our system is not money alone.

    Currently our nation spends significantly more money on education than most countries and yet our students consistently score lower than their peers. Students in countries which are struggling economically, socially and politically, such as Russia, outscore U.S. children in critical subjects such as math and physics. Clearly, we must make significant change beyond blindly throwing money into the current structure in order to improve our children's academic performance in order to maintain a viable force in the world economy.

    It is shameful that we are failing to provide many of our children with adequate training and quality academic preparation for the real world. The number of college freshmen who require remedial courses in reading, writing and mathematics when they begin their higher education is unacceptably high. It does not bode well for our future economy if the majority of workers are not prepared with the basic skills to engage in a competitive global marketplace.

    I concede that school vouchers are not the magic bullet for eradicating all that is wrong with our current educational system, but they are an important opportunity for providing improved academic opportunities for all children, not just the wealthy. Examination of the limited voucher programs scattered around our country reveal high levels of parent and student satisfaction, an increase in parental involvement, and a definite improvement in attendance and discipline at the participating schools. Vouchers encourage public schools, communities and parents to work together to raise the level of education for all students. Through this bill, we have the opportunity to replicate these important benefits throughout all our nation's communities.

    Thomas Jefferson said, "The purpose of education is to create young citizens with knowing heads and loving hearts." If we fail to give our children the education they need to nurture their heads and hearts, then we threaten their futures and the future of our nation. Each of us is responsible for ensuring that our children have both the love in their hearts and the knowledge in their heads to not only dream, but to make their dreams a reality.

    The time has come for us to finally conduct a national demonstration of school choice to determine the benefits or perhaps disadvantages of providing educational choices to all students, not just those who are fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy family. I urge my colleagues to support this bill and put the needs of America's school children ahead of pork barrel projects and tax loopholes benefitting only special interests and big business.

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