Taking Ownership of Education
February 1, 2005
Own your home. Own your healthcare. Own your retirement. But let someone else call the shots about your children's education? "Ownership society" is the phrase of the day, but education is oddly overlooked in the discussion.
In his inauguration speech, President George W. Bush reiterated his plan to build an ownership society by "making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny." On the campaign trail, he promised to give "every American a stake in the promise and future of our country" by owning a home, a business, retirement savings, and health insurance. The ownership society is a step away from government paternalism and a step toward the realization of individual goals and dreams.
Education should be an important part of the ownership society. While the President's proposals to create private Social Security accounts, favor civil society over government, and increase individual health coverage will empower individuals to take greater control of their lives, his most recent education proposals will not. His current plans would expand federal programs, testing regimens, and funding, rather than help parents take ownership of their children's education.
Similarly, in the Senate Republicans' recently released "Top Ten" Bills for the 109th Congress, an ownership-based education agenda is the missing link in an otherwise strong list of proposals to boost individual freedom and security. The sole education bill on that list, the Opportunities Through Education Act, would do little to increase ownership in education. The only exception, among its lists of new accountability requirements, partnerships, and programs, is a proposal to "encourage improvements in …supplemental services," presumably under the No Child Left Behind Act. The bill contains no mention of NCLB's school choice provisions.
That's a serious omission. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, NCLB's choice provisions are in need of greater "encouragement," but that's putting things lightly. Because of limited capacity and other barriers, only one percent of school children who were eligible to transfer out of low performing schools have actually done so. For many, there simply is no opportunity to take ownership of a chance at a good education. A litany of new programs will not change that. Improving access to better schools through school choice should be a top priority for Congress, the President, and the Department of Education. An ownership society where families own their own home, healthcare, and retirement is incomplete unless families can direct their children's education.
To provide greater ownership of education, Congress should:
· Ensure that families have the chance to transfer their students to other schools, including private schools, under the No Child Left Behind Act;
· Provide early Pell grants to aspiring but financially disadvantaged high school students to attend college courses;
· Make Perkins funds portable so that students can attend quality vocational courses at community colleges or other institutions; and
· Partner with other cities to establish pilot programs like the D.C. voucher program.
President Bush has been a strong proponent of choice in education, as have many leaders in Congress. The Administration and Congress should take steps to create meaningful choice in education by making it a part of the ownership society initiative.