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Parents group rallies at Capitol for school choice

Parents group rallies at Capitol for school choice
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Republican lawmakers joined an advocacy group seeking greater powers for parents to choose their children's schools in a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottLobbying world Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Trump ready to make McConnell's life miserable MORE (R-S.C.) and Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) spoke at the event organized by PublicSchoolsOptions.org, a group of parents in over 30 states demanding more choices in schooling.

“When you give parents the choice, you really do give the kid a better chance,” Scott told The Hill. “You really open that child’s minds to amazing opportunities that they would not have seen before."

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“The statistics bear it out, and personal experience says it real,” he added.

Supporters of school choice want to allow federal dollars to follow students through vouchers. But Democrats object to such proposals, saying that federal dollars shouldn't go toward private schools and that such plans would gut the public education system.

The rally comes after lawmakers in both the House and the Senate passed legislation overhauling the No Child Left Behind education law. But the two versions are different on the issue of school choice with the House bill allowing low-income parents to take federal money to the schools of their choice. The Senate rejected such measures.

Lawmakers must now find a compromise between the two versions, but the White House has panned the House bill while offering reserved support for the Senate measure.

Scott said choice was crucial for poor students who often changed homes and were unable to settle at one school.

“The ability to fund the right school for that kid who’s moving around a lot is difficult,” Scott told The Hill, describing his own childhood growing up in a poor neighborhood and attending four elementary schools.

At the rally, Messer called school choice "the civil rights issue of our time.”

“No child in America should have a waitlist to their future,” Messer said, citing the one million children waiting to attend different schools. “That’s one million lives that are being held back because we’re falling short as a nation.

“The truth is, in America, you already have school choice if you can afford it,” Messer told supporters. “You’ll send your kid to the school of your choice, often a private school, or you can just move. The real question as a country is what are we going to do for everybody else.”

Both lawmakers have sponsored education bills this year. Messer introduced the Scholarships for Kids Act in February 2014 to reallocate Kindergarten through 12th-grade funding to help low income students and co-sponsored the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015 with Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) last April to restrict the use of student data.

Scott authored the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act in January to help students who are disabled or from military or low-income families.

Public Schools Options board director Tillie Elvrum at the rally said choice benefitted different kinds of students, helping some get access to advanced coursework and others to leave behind bullies or difficult schools.

“We trust parents to make education decisions for their children,” she added. She said charter schools, online education, magnet schools, tuition scholarships and open enrollment plans all would better help parents.

Other speakers at the event included Kevin Chavous, executive counsel for the American Federation for Children, and Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform.