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State of the Union 2008

Empowering Parents With More Choices For Their Children's Education
President Bush Proposes New Pell Grants For Kids Program, Announces White House Summit On Inner City Children And Faith-Based Schools

Tonight, President Bush will ask Congress to support a new $300 million "Pell Grants for Kids" scholarship program to help poor children reach their full potential.  Like the Federal Pell Grant program, which students can use to attend the public or private college of their choice, Pell Grants for Kids would offer scholarships to low-income children in underperforming elementary and secondary schools, including high schools with significant dropout rates.  These scholarships would help with the costs of attending an out-of-district public school or nearby private or faith-based school.

  • The President will also announce that a White House Summit on inner city children and faith-based schools will be held this spring in Washington, D.C.  Non-public schools, including faith-based schools, have helped to educate generations of low-income students; however, they are disappearing at an alarming rate.  As we continue working to improve urban public schools through the No Child Left Behind Act, we must also work to preserve the critically important educational alternatives for underserved students attending chronically underperforming public schools.  This Summit will help increase awareness of the challenges faced by low-income students in the inner cities and address the role of non-public schools, including faith-based schools, in meeting the needs of low-income inner city students.

Pell Grants For Kids Will Provide New Options For Parents Of Children Trapped In Underperforming Schools

Pell Grants for Kids would support State and local efforts to increase educational options for low-income K-12 students enrolled in the Nation's most troubled public schools.  Under the Pell Grants for Kids program, the Education Department would make competitive awards to States, cities, local educational agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop K-12 scholarship programs for eligible low-income students attending schools that have not made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind for five years, or that have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent. 

  • Students in chronically underperforming schools could use scholarships to pay tuition, fees, and other education-related expenses at higher-performing out-of-district public schools or nearby private or faith-based schools.  These scholarships would supplement aid already available through the Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies program and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which would follow the child. 

  • Pell Grants for Kids is modeled after the highly successful Federal Pell Grant program for college students.  The Federal Pell Grant program provides low-income students with financial support to attend any of more than 5,000 public, private, and faith-based colleges.  The same choice, flexibility, and support now available to students seeking a quality college education should be offered to low-income families with children in chronically low-performing schools. 

President Bush also calls on Congress to fund $800 million of scholarships for 21st Century Learning Opportunities.  These scholarships will give parents the opportunity to enroll their children in high-quality after-school and summer school programs aimed at increasing student achievement, including programs run by faith-based and community organizations.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program has helped more than 2,600 low-income students in our Nation's capital attend the schools of their choice.  The Federal government has funded this program since 2004 and has provided scholarships to some of Washington's poorest children.  The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program receives four applications for every available scholarship, and a recent poll found strong community support for the program.

A White House Summit On Inner City Children And Faith-Based Schools Will Help Urban Communities Prevent The Loss Of Educational Alternatives For Their Low-Income Students

Despite their educational successes, urban faith-based schools are disappearing at an alarming rate.  This is especially troubling for minority students.  Since 1970, the minority population at Catholic schools, for example, has increased by 250 percent, and the non-Catholic population has increased by more than 500 percent. Yet these important institutions are disappearing for financial reasons.  From 1996 to 2004, nearly 1,400 urban inner city faith-based schools closed, displacing 355,000 students into other institutions.

A White House Summit will unite educators and community leaders to develop local strategies to partner with these schools in serving our Nation's urban students.  The Summit will bring together national, State, and local leaders in education, policymaking, research, philanthropy, business, and community development to:

  1. Draw greater attention to the lack of high-quality educational alternatives available to low-income urban students;
  2. Highlight the impact non-public schools, including faith-based schools, have had in the education of youth in America's inner cities;
  3. Increase awareness of the challenges facing these schools; and
  4. Identify innovative solutions to the challenges facing these schools so they can continue serving their communities.