Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wall Street Journal: Education End-Run

We have some incredibly talented teachers in our schools. Imagine how empowered our best educational entrepreneurs would be to meet the needs of students not well served by the status quo if every parent could do what is described in the editorial below. This is an incredibly simple idea that would dramatically improve the quality and reduce the cost of education if it were implemented everywhere. Unleasing the creative energy in our educators is essential in a world where we will no longer be able to depend on attracting the best and brightest from the rest of the world.

Education End-Run
Editorial in the Wall Street Journal
October 27, 2005; Page A20

There's no shortage of bills in Congress to provide school aid for victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. But by far the best proposal out there is the Family Education Reimbursement Act, if for no other reason than its express goal is to circumvent the bureaucracies that make it so difficult to speed federal relief to displaced students and the schools that take them in.

The measure was introduced last week by House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner of Ohio and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, both Republicans, and its implementation couldn't be simpler. To create an account, parents could register on the Web, through a toll-free number or by signing up in person at a school. The accounts would provide up to $6,700 for each child, which is the average expenditure in states that have been enrolling the bulk of Katrina's 372,000 displaced students.

Next, parents would provide the account number to the school enrolling their child, and the school would use that information to get reimbursed. That's it. No endless paperwork for the families. No lengthy reimbursement procedure for the schools. Instead of forcing a school that has graciously opened its doors to refugees to make an extra funding request to the district, which in turn must go to the state, which in turn must go to the feds, the legislation provides a user-friendly alternative.

All schools would be eligible -- public, private, parochial or charters. And the accounts would be portable. The money would follow the child in case a displaced family decides to move back home or relocate somewhere else. And in a welcome nod to fiscal conscientiousness that has been all too rare in Congress, at the end of the school year any unused funds would go back to the Treasury. The program would be administered by an agency -- preferably a private one -- that could be up and running in as little as a month's time.

The problem with competing measures -- such as the Senate bill cosponsored by Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Democrat Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts -- is that they filter federal relief through the existing education bureaucracy. We can't explain Mr. Enzi's behavior, but Mr. Kennedy's is predictable. His special-interest constituency is this very bureaucracy, nurtured by the teachers unions.

Mr. Kennedy says his bill doesn't discriminate against private or religious institutions, and technically it doesn't. But there are so many restrictions on how the funds can be used that the bill would likely dissuade all but a few from taking part. That of course undermines the original goal of providing education assistance to all the families displaced by Katrina, no matter where their children attend school.

We suspect that the opposition coming from Mr. Kennedy, National Education Association President Reg Weaver and others can also be explained by their fear that these education accounts would be a big success. The last thing they want to see is proof that there's an alternative to the education status quo.

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