Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Issues Concerning Schools
School Vouchers, School Modernization and Class Size issues.

School Vouchers
Vouchers are a form of government subsidy given to parents for use towards tuition and other school-related expenses in public, private and parochial schools. Many state and national legislators, as well as civic groups, have proposed voucher programs as means of addressing the nation's educational woes and also of assisting families who send their children to private and sectarian schools. The constitutionality of voucher programs is often questionable — many proposals have been found to amount to government funding of religious institutions, a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

For more information, go to the RAC's Vouchers Issues Page.

School Modernization
Too many of America's schools are crumbling, crowded and obsolete. It's a national problem requiring a national solution. America's schools are in disrepair. The average public school in America is forty-two years old. Twenty-eight percent of the public schools in America are over fifty years old.

America's schools are overcrowded. Record enrollments and growing communities are leading to severe overcrowding in our nation?s public schools. Putting students in trailers and going to school in shifts is not the answer.

America's schools can't support today's technology. Forty-six percent of the public schools in America lack the electrical and communication wiring to support today's computer systems.

We can't expect our children to succeed under these conditions. Students learn better with smaller classes in modern and safe surroundings. Yet our states and local communities alone don't have the resources to fix our schools.

It doesn't have to be this way. We need a federal/state/local partnership to address this school building crisis. In fact, Congress has a plan to help our states and local communities rebuild our schools.

Representatives Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and Charles Rangel (D-NY) have jointly introduced H.R. 1076, America's Better Classroom Act. H.R. 1076 is a bipartisan bill that would make $25 billion in interest-free bonds available to states and local school districts to modernize outdated buildings, repair safety problems, build new schools, connect classrooms to the Internet and provide better technology for schools. Interest-free bonds make school construction affordable by paying the interest on construction loans. The interest on a 15-year loan can add up to almost half the amount of the original loan. The program is administered through existing agencies. Interest-free school modernization bonds are fiscally sound. Three billion dollars in federal tax credits generates $25 billion in bonds, with every dollar going to repair, renovation, or construction. H.R. 1076 currently has a bipartisan group of nearly 100 cosponsors.

Modernizing our nation's schools transcends partisanship and geography. Representatives from all parties and from all parts of the country want safe and modern school facilities. A bipartisan majority of Members of Congress signed onto similar legislation to provide federal resources for school modernization during the 106th Congress. A recent bipartisan survey of likely voters found strong support for a federal role in initiatives such as school repair and modernization. Yet Congressional leaders have failed to bring meaningful school modernization and construction legislation to a vote.

The American Institute of Architects has published a report detailing conditions in the high schools from which various Members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees graduated. To see a copy of their report, Good Enough for Congress? A Pictorial Representation of Why Americans Deserve Better School Buildings, visit their site.

Class Size
Recent studies confirm what every teacher and parent knows. Smaller classes increase student achievement. Project STAR (student teacher achievement ratio), the class size reduction study based in Tennessee, followed students from kindergarten through high school. STAR research had already demonstrated that smaller class sizes in the K-3 years lead to better test scores. By the time they reached eighth grade, children who had attended smaller classes in K-3 were at least one full year ahead of their peers academically.

To fund smaller class sizes, President Clinton proposed a class size reduction program to hire 100,000 new qualified teachers over the next seven years as part of his FY1999 budget. Last year, Congress provided a down payment to fund the hiring of 30,000 new teachers for the first year. That program expired in September 1999. The final FY 2000 budget maintained the class size reduction program to keep the 30,000 new teachers teaching and increased funding to hire even more. Additional funding has allowed for an additional 8,000 new teachers to be hired in 2002.

The FY 2000 budget agreement strengthened teacher quality and accountability provisions in the program. It increased from 15 to 25 percent the amount local schools can use to train teachers, and requires teachers hired with class size monies to be fully certified and have the subject matter knowledge and teaching skills necessary for their assigned teaching areas. Schools using class size reduction funds must report publicly on how they are reducing class size, the impact of smaller classes on student achievement, and their progress in increasing the percentage of core academic classes taught by fully certified teachers.

The class size reduction program requires reauthorization and funding every year. It is not automatic. Ask your Representatives to continue to support the program.

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