NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

King: School Choice Not Just A Dream

September 11, 1997

"Is it moral to tax families, compel their children's attendance at schools, and then give no choice between teaching methods, religious or secular education and other matters?" asks Alveda C. King, niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. King, his siblings and their children were products of both private and public schooling, says Alveda King, and school vouchers would give all families a similar choice.

A step in that direction is a bill House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) have proposed: the District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week as part of an appropriations bill.

  • Under the act, 2,000 low-income students in Washington would receive tuition scholarships of up to $3,200 per year for use at the public or private school of their choice.
  • The act would also provide 2,000 public school students with vouchers of up to $500 for extra tutoring assistance.

The bill is designed to show a way to rescue the District of Columbia public school system.

  • The D.C. school system spends $10,180 per student annually, the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Yet 80 percent of fourth-graders in the schools there score below their grade on basic math skills, according to the Annie Casey Foundation.
  • And the National Assessment of Education Progress reports that 72 percent of the Washington's fourth-graders test below basic proficiency.

In response to the poor performance of the schools, 19.7 percent of families in D.C. send their children to private schools, compared to the national average of 13.1 percent. Public school teachers there send their children to non government schools at a rate of 28.2 percent (compared to 12.1 percent nationwide).

But while two-thirds of the District's population is African American, 61 percent of families who send their children to private schools are white and only 12 percent are black.

Source: Alveda C. King (chairman, King for America and senior fellow, Alexis de Tocqueville Institution), Wall Street Journal, September 11, 1997.


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