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Committee Statements

Rokita Statement: Hearing on “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice”

In recent years, this subcommittee has helped advance positive, legislative solutions for America’s students and families. At the center of those efforts has always been the desire to make sure every child has the opportunity to receive an excellent education. That’s a mantra we repeat often around here, and for good reason. It’s a critical goal, and it guides much of the work we do on this subcommittee.

It is with that goal in mind that we enacted legislation to put K-12 education back in the hands of those who know best what students need — parents and state and local leaders. We also made significant progress advancing reforms to improve career and technical education, child nutrition assistance, and student privacy. Because there is still a lot of work to do before we reach our shared goal, we will continue working together to deliver the solutions our nation’s children and families deserve. We’re here today to discuss one of those solutions: school choice.

Across the country, efforts are underway to empower parents with more options when it comes to their children’s education. My home state of Indiana, for example, operates a scholarship program to help children from low-income families, children in failing schools, or children with special needs receive the high-quality education necessary to succeed both in the classroom and in life. The state also provides tax credits to individuals and employers who donate to nonprofit organizations that award scholarships to students. And as I’m sure our witness Mr. Kubacki [coo-bah-key] will explain, Indiana’s charter school community has been helping students succeed for years.

Because of these and similar efforts nationwide, charter schools are currently serving close to 3 million students, and nearly 400,000 kids are benefitting from a private school choice program – more than ever before. While these numbers help illustrate the growing popularity of school choice, they don’t fully capture the hope and opportunity school choice provides.

At a committee hearing last year, we heard from a truly inspiring young woman named Denisha Merriweather. Explaining how school choice changed her life, Denisha said:

“The cycle of poverty is ending in my family, thanks to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship … So many opportunities have been given to me, and I want to create the same for other children just like me.”

The cycle of poverty is ending in my family. Those are powerful words, and Denisha’s is a powerful story.

Not only did school choice provide her life-changing opportunities, but those opportunities have inspired her to help change the lives of others. Already the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, Denisha is now working to become the first in her family to receive a graduate degree. She is committed to using that degree to advocate for expanding educational opportunities to other disadvantaged children and families.

Denisha is just one of countless individuals whose lives have been changed because their families had a choice. With a new Congress and a new administration, we now have an opportunity to extend the power of school choice to other families as well. We will look for opportunities to advance school choice and continue our work to improve traditional public schools.

Make no mistake: These two efforts go hand in hand. We will never turn our backs on the millions of students who attend our nation’s public schools, but we also want to ensure parents have the opportunity to choose the best school for their children.

It won’t be easy. In fact, there is already opposition building against the idea of empowering parents with more choices. In many ways, this explains the smear campaign against Betsy DeVos, the president’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Education. She has shown her commitment to all children through her words, and more importantly, through her actions. Mrs. DeVos has dedicated her life to helping some of our nation’s most disadvantaged students. Because she stands firmly for parental choice, she is being attacked and maligned across the country.

No one on this committee would ever leave their child trapped in a failing school. No one. Yet, some would deny other parents the right to do what’s best for their children. If we are serious about improving K-12 education, we have to demand better. The Every Student Succeeds Act is the perfect example of what we can accomplish when we put the interests of students above politics. When we focus on policies — not press releases. I remain optimistic that this Congress will choose students and advance policies to ensure every child receives an excellent education.
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