Voucher proposal at the federal level
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
Three reasons the candidate's school-choice proposal is less provocative than it seems
By ANDREW J. ROTHERHAM | @arotherham | June 14, 2012 | 20
School vouchers are back in the news except that proponents of the idea, including Mitt Romney, are not using the word vouchers any more. For some reason voters don’t like that term, but they do like the idea of giving parents more choices, so vouchers — I mean “scholarships” and “choice” — are a big part of Mr. Romney’s education platform. Listen to him talk about it, and it’s as though we’ve traveled back in time; substitute Bob Dole for Romney and President Clinton for President Obama, and it’s the same debate we had in the 1990s. There is a lot more choice in education now than there was two decades ago: voucher programs for private and parochial schools are well established in cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland, and states like Indiana and Louisiana have enacted them more recently. There are also about half a dozen state programs specifically for students with disabilities. Meanwhile, charter schools continue to proliferate; there are now more than 5,000 of these publicly funded alternatives that students can choose to attend rather than their traditional neighborhood school. But despite all that, this latest round of voucher-pseudonym talk probably won’t amount to much. That’s because school choice is a state-by-state game, not a federal one.
Here are three reasons why Romney’s proposals are less provocative than they seem:
(MORE: The Biggest Myths About School Vouchers)
1. This is about politics, not policy. Romney’s gambit here is politically clever because it forces Obama to be against choice and drives a wedge between parents and the teachers’ unions. In fact, Obama is for charter schools and public-school choice – charter schools are independently run public schools, and public-school choice schemes allow parents to choose from among existing public schools besides the one in their neighborhood – and his administration has used various initiatives to promote them. But voters don’t parse the issue the way wonks do, so it gives Romney an opening. Romney and other Republicans know they’re using a great talking point when they complain that the President is against allowing poor kids in Washington’s beleaguered public schools to attend better schools, especially when Obama’s own kids attend a highly-regarded private school in the city. But as policy, Romney’s blueprint is pretty weak soup because it doesn’t force — or even do much to encourage — states to expand choice. It merely says that federal dollars will defer to states and cities that decide to allow private-school vouchers.
..............well worth going to the Link to read the rest
By TRIP GABRIEL
“Voucher” is a fighting word in education, so it may be understandable that when Mitt Romney speaks about improving the nation’s schools, he never uses that term.
Nonetheless, as president, Mr. Romney would seek to overhaul the federal government’s largest programs for kindergarten through 12th grade into a voucherlike system. Students would be free to use $25 billion in federal money to attend any school they choose — public, charter, online or private — a system, he said, that would introduce marketplace dynamics into education to drive academic gains.
His plans, presented in a recent speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, represent a broad overhaul of current policy, one that reverses a quarter-century trend, under Republican and Democratic presidents, of concentrating responsibility for school quality at the federal level.
“I will expand parental choice in an unprecedented way,” Mr. Romney said, adding that families’ freedom to vote with their feet “will hold schools responsible for results.”
His proposals are the clearest sign yet that Republicans have executed an about-face from the education policies of President George W. Bush, whose signature domestic initiative, the No Child Left Behind law of 2002, required uniform state testing and imposed penalties on schools that failed to progress.
Now Mr. Romney is taking his party back to its ideological roots by emphasizing a lesser role for Washington, replacing top-down mandates with a belief in market mechanisms. It is a change driven in part by Tea Party disdain of the federal government. In the Republican presidential nominating fight, candidates competed in calling to shut the Education Department.
Mr. Romney, who never went that far, also seems hemmed in politically by the fact that President Obama promotes many solutions that were once Republican talking points, including charter schoolsand teacher evaluations tied to test scores.
“There’s not much left for Republicans to be distinctive about,” said Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group. “The one line the Obama folks have refused to cross is the voucher line” — that is, allowing students to use taxpayer money to attend any certified school, even a private school.
Specifically, Mr. Romney proposed to change federal payments made to schools with large numbers of poor and disabled students into an individual entitlement. Students would take a share of the $25 billion in two federal programs to the school of their choice.
He would also extract the federal government from intervening to turn around the lowest performing schools, which has been a chief focus of the Obama administration. Instead, to drive improvement, Mr. Romney would have schools compete for students in a more market-based approach to quality.
“This is the best motive to reform there will ever be — if you give parents the ability to vote with their feet,” said Tom Luna, Idaho’s superintendent of schools, who is an adviser to Mr. Romney.
But there is limited evidence in the real world of schools improving much as they compete for students, according to education experts.
One notable skeptic is Margaret Spellings, a former education secretary under Mr. Bush, who this year was an informal adviser to Mr. Romney. She said she withdrew once the candidate rejected strong federal accountability measures.
“I have long supported and defended and believe in a muscular federal role on school accountability,” Ms. Spellings said. “Vouchers and choice as the drivers of accountability — obviously that’s untried and untested.”
Although offering economically disadvantaged children an escape from a failing neighborhood school may be a matter of fairness, Mr. Romney’s argument is broader: choice, he said, will promote competition for students and, like a rising tide, lift all schools.
One recent study of a Florida program offering private school vouchers to low-income families found that test scores at public schools, faced with competition, went up.
But critics say that the improvements are small, and that the idea is shaped by ideology more than evidence. “Romney is on poor empirical ground in making a claim based on competitive effects,” said Christopher Lubienski, an education professor at the University of Illinois.
James Kvaal, the policy director of the Obama campaign, accused Mr. Romney of seeking to “stop the clock on decades of reform by no longer insisting action be taken when a school has been struggling for years.”
Advocates for vouchers say they will have a larger impact if they become more widespread.
One of Mr. Romney’s ideas for increasing students’ choices seems to contradict an anti-Washington emphasis: giving poor students the freedom to choose a public school outside their district.
District boundaries have long been sacrosanct. They prevent urban students, for example, from enrolling in suburban schools that typically have higher-income families and sometimes more lavish budgets.
Calls for open enrollment across districts are usually the province of liberal groups, said Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. “For the federal government to require districts to open up their boundaries would be a level of federal intrusion into the affairs of states and local districts far beyond anything” in current law, Mr. Carey said.
Mr. Romney’s policy seems closely inspired by a pro-voucher report issued in February by the conservative Hoover Institution. Five of eight members of a task force that produced the report are among the 19 education advisers the Romney campaign named last month.
Once thought to be moribund, the voucher movement was revived by gains Republicans made in the 2010 midterm elections. Fourteen states since then have introduced or expanded private school vouchers, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
The money for the vouchers would come from two federal programs that Mr. Romney would overhaul that target students deemed in need of extra support: Title 1, for economically disadvantaged students; and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Currently the money from both programs, the largest K-12 initiatives in the Education Department, is awarded to states and districts based on federal formulas.
Grover J. Whitehurst, a Romney adviser, said that remaking the programs into individual payments that follow the student — he used the metaphor of a student’s backpack — could attract other streams of education dollars.
“If you connected state funding with federal funding, then you’re talking about a backpack with enough money in it to really empower choice,” said Mr. Whitehurst, director of education policy at the Brookings Institution. “The idea would be the federal Title 1 funds would allow states that want to move in this direction to do so, and if they did so, all of a sudden it’s a game changer.”
This is the definitive review of Obama education policies. It's got everything. Go to the link.
Fueled by economic-stimulus money and his own executive authority, Mr. Obama's initiatives—including No Child Left Behind Act waivers and the launch of grant competitions such as Race to the Top—have pressed states and districts to:
• Hold individual teachers more accountable for the performance of their students on standardized tests;
• Remove restrictions on the growth of charter schools;
• Take aggressive action to turn around their lowest-performing schools; and
• Adopt common academic standards intended to prepare students for college and the workforce, bolstered by federal aid to help states develop common assessments.
DNHPE Comment: Be sure to follow the link and read the full piece and sidebars, with a distillation of Romney's agenda and listing of his advisers.
By Alyson Klein
As the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, Mitt Romney championed aggressive education policies later embraced by the Obama administration and by other states.
But for most of his second run at the Republican presidential nomination, voters have heard little about his education record in Massachusetts or initiatives that Mr. Romney was largely unable to sell to that state's Democratic-controlled legislature.
Instead, in a high-profile May 23 speech on education, Mr. Romney spoke at length about school choice, pushing a bold—but administratively tricky—plan to let disadvantaged students and those in special education take their federal aid to any campus, including a private school.
Mr. Romney, who last week secured enough delegates to clinch the 2012 GOP nomination, is pushing hard to distinguish his education policies from those President Barack Obama espouses. The former business executive has floated market-based proposals that appeal to a conservative electorate, and leveled criticism of teachers' union influence on school policy—and with the Obama administration.
Mr. Romney's decade-long evolution on education issues also has seen him move away from some of the most extreme positions taken by some in his party, including abolition of the U.S. Department of Education and repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act, which he nonetheless would like to overhaul.At the same time, Mr. Romney continues to share some administration policy priorities, particularly Mr. Obama's fondness for charter schools and insistence on tying teacher evaluation in part to students' outcomes on standardized tests, both of which have rattled union leaders.
The policy overlap between Mr. Romney and the man he is seeking to replace comes as no surprise to William H. Guenther, the president of MassInsight, a nonpartisan research organization in Boston that advised Mr. Romney on K-12 issues during his tenure as governor. He places Mr. Romney among a set of "liberal and conservative education reformers" focused on a combination of "excellent goals and no excuses."
May 23, 2012
By TRIP GABRIEL
Lamenting that millions of American children receive “a third world education,” Mitt Romney on Wednesday called for poor and disabled students to be able to use federal funds to attend any public, private or online school they choose.
In an already feverish campaign contest with President Obama that has focused largely on the economy, Mr. Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, turned his attention to the issue of education.
It might have seemed an unlikely choice, given how insignificantly education has figured in recent presidential elections. But the campaign has long planned to flesh out Mr. Romney’s agenda and move beyond daily tit-for-tat criticism of the president.
Mr. Romney’s sudden emphasis on education is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s forceful embrace of the same issue in 2000, a pillar of his “compassionate conservatism” that was credited with softening his image with moderate voters in the general election.
Another hint of Mr. Romney’s political aims was his audience: a meeting in Washington of Hispanic voters, a constituency that polls consistently show cares deeply about education, and one that Mr. Romney must court as he tries to win critical states like Florida and Colorado.
Mr. Romney said that the failure of so many American schools with minority students “is the civil rights issue of our era,” echoing a mantra of the school choice movement. “It’s the great challenge of our time.”
The challenge for Mr. Romney is that many of the ideas he touched on — increasing the number of charter schools, holding teachers more accountable for student success — have already been adopted by the Obama administration, whose education policies have all but co-opted traditional Republican positions.
In response to Mr. Romney’s proposals, the Obama campaign released a compilation of Republican governors’ past praise for the president’s education policies, including comments from Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico.
Mr. Romney told donors at a private gathering in Florida last month that he would reduce the size of the Education Department or fold it into another agency. But on Wednesday he gave no hint of the cuts he would make to education spending. He said he would consolidate $4 billion in current expenditures on teacher quality across 10 federal agencies, and send the money to states as block grants.
He also promised to break logjams that still hold up reforms by taking on teachers’ unions, which he called “the clearest example of a group that has lost its way.” He accused Mr. Obama of quavering before the unions because of their power within the Democratic Party. “President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses — and unwilling to stand up for our kids,” he said.
In fact, Mr. Obama has crossed teachers’ unions, notably in 2010 when he praised a mass firing of teachers in Rhode Island in a showdown over an administration policy to radically overhaul failing high-poverty schools.
In a policy paper released on Wednesday, the Romney campaign called for the elimination of such federal intervention.
James Kvaal, policy director for Mr. Obama’s campaign, accused Mr. Romney of wanting “to stop the clock on decades of reform by no longer insisting action be taken” to reform struggling schools.
In place of overhauling failing schools, which can include replacement of the staff or conversion to a charter school, Mr. Romney would substitute a “public report card,” one exposing a school’s failures so that parents, presumably, could steer clear. It is uncertain how that proposal differs from existing report cards now required under the No Child Left Behind law enacted under President Bush.
Mr. Romney’s biggest departure from existing policy was his call for poor students and those with disabilities to be able to attend any public school in their state — “or a private school where permitted by law” — and to have federal funds follow them, rather than the current system in which the money stays with a student’s local school.
The inclusion of private schools suggested that Mr. Romney favors voucher programs that use public dollars to pay private tuition, long a controversial idea but one that has lately been embraced by Republican lawmakers in Indiana and Louisiana.
“For too long, we’ve merely talked about the virtues of school choice without really doing something about it,” Mr. Romney said.
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group, said Mr. Romney’s proposal would significantly shift how the two largest Education Department programs for kindergarten through 12th grade students — those for poor students and those with disabilities — are now run.
“It’s a fundamental structural change of focus away from districts and schools to focus on kids and families,” Mr. Finn, an education official under President Ronald Reagan, said. “It changes the allocation of power as well as money, from people running school systems to parents choosing schools.”
But apart from the symbolism, the shift might not lead to many students choosing better schools, since the federal government pays only about 10 percent of education costs for students. States and school districts, which provide the balance, have in many cases already embraced the portability of financing when students choose a school beyond their neighborhood.
“Frankly, it catches up the federal policy to what is already state policy” in many places, Mr. Finn said.
Michael Barbaro contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 29, 2012
An article on Thursday about Mitt Romney’s address on his education proposals misstated the name of an education policy group whose president, Chester E. Finn Jr., assessed the plan. It is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, not the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
BY Valerie Strauss
The Washington Post
First Published May 27 2012 07:58 pm • Last Updated May 27 2012 10:11 pm
Anybody who thinks President Barack Obama’s education policies have been unfriendly to public education should pay close attention to Mitt Romney’s school reform vision.
If you don’t like Obama’s agenda, you might like Romney’s even less.
A Chance For Every Child is the education program that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee spelled out in a speech and a white paper released Wednesday.
Romney is advancing a pro-choice, pro-voucher, pro-states-rights education program that seems certain to hasten the privatization of the public education system.
In a Romney-run education world, the parents of poor and special-education students would choose a school - public or private, based on standardized test scores and other data - and then a specific amount of public money would follow the child to the school.
It’s a voucher system that would, among other things, require families of the neediest children to constantly shop around for schools in an unstable market and would probably exacerbate the very thing - a chronic achievement gap - all of this is supposedly intended to fix. Obama opposes vouchers.
..........go to Link
By Jay Mathews, Published: May 27
Poor Mitt Romney. He appoints a splendid group of education policy advisers, smart people with great ideas. Then he learns that he has to give a speech explaining how he differs from President Obama on schools when those same advisers have spent their careers making that nearly impossible.
The two major parties mostly agree on education policy. This has been true for a generation. This is good for schools, but during presidential campaigns it makes speech writers miserable. Here is an example from Romney’s education speech last week to the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit:
“Dramatically expanding parental choice, making schools responsible for results by giving parents access to clear and instructive information, and attracting and rewarding our best teachers — these changes can help ensure that every parent has a choice and every child has a chance.”That’s a nice sentence. The only flaw is that it sums up the views of the Obama administration pretty closely.
Instead the two parties pound each other with an education issue that makes them look tough to their most partisan supporters. That convenient weapon is vouchers, tax-supported scholarships for students who want to attend private schools. Obama has cut funds for a voucher program in the District so Romney embraces it. “I will be a model for parental choice programs across the nation,” he said in the speech.
The split doesn’t affect the bipartisan approach to schools much because vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far. There aren’t nearly enough available spaces in good private schools to meet the demand. Any significant growth in vouchers would lead to heavy government interference in private schools and kill any allegiance conservative Republicans had to it.
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