INSIDE: WASHINGTON

D.C. VOUCHERS

The federally funded school voucher plan established by Congress for low-income students in Washington, D.C., is being used to full capacity in its second year.

The Washington Scholarship Fund, which administers the program, says 1,705 students are receiving funds to attend 59 different non-public schools in Washington, D.C., for the 2005-06 school year. Funding is available to provide 1,613 students vouchers of $7,500; the program is able to accommodate more students because not all of the vouchers are being funded at the full amount.

In its first year, several hundred vouchers were not used because of a lack of applications. Supporters of the program said last year, there was not enough time after Congress approved the voucher plan to publicize the availability of the funding.

This year, the Fund received nearly 1.7 applications from public school students for each seat available at participating schools.

KATRINA FUNDING

The U.S. Department of Education wants to spend up to $2.6 billion to help schools in the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina. About 372,000 students from Louisiana and Mississippi were displaced by the storm.

The department wants to provide up to $1.9 billion to aid districts that have enrolled at least 10 displaced children. In Louisiana and Mississippi, the money would go directly to the state so that officials have the flexibility to send funds to districts that have enrolled displaced students as well as districts that have sustained serious damage.

The education department also has proposed spending up to $227 million to help displaced college students, provide aid to colleges and universities that have enrolled displaced students, and support the recovery efforts of the schools that sustained hurricane damage.

A third category of hurricane-related education aid calls for providing up to $488 million to compensate displaced families who have enrolled children in private schools. Some have criticized that proposal, saying it amounts to a voucher program that would funnel public funds to private schools.

NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR HIGHER ED

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is forming a commission that will develop a comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education.

The Commission on the Future of Higher Education will have 19 members and include university presidents, business executives, policymakers and researchers. It will seek to reach a consensus on what skills students will need to succeed in the 21st century, how to make sure the United States stays the world's leader in academic research, and how to make sure opportunities for higher education and the best jobs are open to all students.

“It is time to examine how we can get the most out of our national investment in higher education,” says Spellings. “We have a responsibility to make sure our higher-education system continues to meet our nation's needs for an educated and competitive workforce in the 21st century.”

SUPERIOR SCHOOLS

The U.S. Education Department has designated 295 schools as No Child Left Behind — Blue Ribbon Schools. The program honors K-12 schools that are either academically superior in their states or that demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement.

Blue ribbons for 2005
Total number of schools 295
Rural 39
Small city or town 63
Suburban 103
Suburban with characteristics typical of urban school 38
Large urban area 52
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