Boozman joins fellow U.S. senators in celebrating school choice

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington in this Nov. 8, 2023 file photo. (AP/Alex Brandon)
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington in this Nov. 8, 2023 file photo. (AP/Alex Brandon)


WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Senate colleagues applauded the work of school choice advocates during a reception Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.

Boozman, R-Ark., was among the speakers who delivered remarks as proponents celebrate National School Choice Week, the annual occurrence promoting increased options in K-12 education in addition to public schools, including charter schools, private institutions and homeschooling.

"We're the tip of the spear, but these things don't get done without the grassroots, so thank you for being here. Thank you for being where you're at," the senator from Rogers told attendees.

The event took place in the Mike Mansfield Room, a space near the Senate chamber for receptions and similar occasions.

Members of Congress have invited school choice advocates to Capitol Hill during National School Choice Week to celebrate the advocacy efforts directed at increasing education options. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., led a coalition of Senate Republicans in introducing a resolution earlier this week commemorating the occurrence; Boozman and fellow Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton of Little Rock are co-sponsors.

Scott has served in the Senate since January 2013 and cited his upbringing in North Charleston, S.C., as a reason for supporting options in addition to public schools. Scott, his mother and his brother shared a single bedroom as the matriarch worked long hours as a nursing assistant to support her sons.

"As a kid growing up in poverty, one of the challenges that my mother faced was finding the right school for her kid. I went to four different elementary schools by the fourth grade because there's a transient nature in poverty," he said.

"Today, because of so many people in this room, I get to stand on your shoulders and advocate for kids I will never meet. But those kids will shape this nation because they had parents who were able to find the right school for their kids, and that is the right future for his nation."

Boozman said students should not have to remain in "failing schools" -- institutions with poor academic performance -- that struggle to improve student achievement.

"Those people ought to have the same opportunities regardless of where those schools are, and that's what this is all about," he said.

Boozman's appearance coincided with increased attention in Arkansas to school choice under Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. One provision of the LEARNS Act -- Sanders' education overhaul that she signed into law last March -- includes the creation of a voucher program for covering private and homeschool education costs.

The state is phasing in the Educational Freedom Account program over three years to make all Arkansas K-12 students eligible for funding by the 2025-2026 academic year. Democratic legislators and education organizations have argued the accounts will divert funds from public schools in the coming years.

"Arkansas is leading the way on this. Gov. Sanders is doing a tremendous job," Boozman said with some hoots from the audience.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called public education the "great equalizer," yet stressed parents should have access to other options if local school systems cannot meet their children's needs.

"This should be a defining issue in the 2024 election cycle, right? Everybody running -- from the city council to the White House -- should be asked about this," he said.

"What do rich people constantly do? They take their money and put their kids in the best school they can find. Why? Because every parent wants their child to have the best school possible," Graham added. "For everybody else who's not rich, how about giving them more choices than they have today?"

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., introduced a companion resolution to the Senate effort before the House of Representatives left Capitol Hill at the end of last week. The House will return to Washington, D.C., on Monday to resume legislative business.


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