January 19, 2016

THE GOVERNING AGENDA:

Jeb gets education right (Frederick M. Hess, January 18, 2016, National Review)

[T]he plan is first-rate. It's as notable for what's not there as for what is. Eschewing divisive pandering on "racial achievement gaps," the plan bracingly argues that education must better serve all Americans. Its first paragraph proclaims, "Choice, innovation and transparency have transformed practically every part of our lives, and yet our schools remain artifacts of another century."

There's no talk of the Common Core. Instead, there's a sharply worded commitment to freeing states from Washington's whims. The plan argues, "Empowering individuals doesn't require additional money or programs designed by Washington. What we need is a national focus on fueling innovation and providing quality choices for every student in this country." The plan calls for reducing the size of the U.S. Department of Education by 50 percent and for expanding choice, promoting transparency, and reducing regulations in order to support innovation.

The boldest strokes are in higher education, with a proposal to replace today's "confusing, burdensome" federal loan program with an income-based financing system. Every high-school graduate would be given access to a $50,000 line of credit (about the amount currently available to independent undergraduates), with students repaying the loan as a percentage of their future income. Economically successful students would pay back up to 1.75 times the amount borrowed, while others would pay back less. The presumption is that the new program would cost no more, on balance, than today's system. In addition to the $50,000, low-income students would also have access to a revamped Pell grant.

Families would be able to turn existing 529 plans into Education Savings Accounts, allowing individuals and families to save tax-free for lifelong education -- from early-childhood programs through mid-career job retraining. The plan would encourage giving to low-income children by making contributions to their accounts tax-deductible. Bush would allow states to take the potpourri of existing federal early-childhood programs and voucherize them for eligible families. This is a nifty way to allow those states that opt in to cut through the web of regulations accompanying the $22 billion now disbursed through 44 federal programs.

Bush's plan calls for doubling federal support for charter schooling and for supporting the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program -- while making clear that all new spending is to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the education budget. The plan shows a clear, principled respect for state authority while allowing states (if they so wish) to use funds in ways that support and expand choice. 

Posted by at January 19, 2016 5:23 PM

  

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