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Betsy DeVos OKs Puerto Rico's 'Student-Centered' Funding Plan


U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has approved Puerto Rico's plan to create a new, "student-centered" funding system.

Puerto Rico is the first district to take advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act's weighted student-funding pilot.

Under this new pilot, participating districts can combine federal, state, and local dollars into a single funding stream tied to individual students. English-language learners, children in poverty, and students in special education—who cost more to educate—would bring with them more money than other students.

"Puerto Rico's use of a student-centered funding system will help to ensure those with the greatest need receive the most support," DeVos said in a statement. "Amid the hardships and challenges following Hurricane Maria, I am pleased to see Puerto Rico rethinking school and putting students' needs above all else."

When ESSA passed, school choice fans were enthusiastic about the pilot's potential to help school district's create or bolster public school choice programs. That's because the pilot could enable districts to allow state, federal, and local funding to follow students to the public or charter school of their choice.

It is not clear if Puerto Rico is going this route. But school choice is at the center of the district's plan to remake itself in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island last year. This spring, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed into law legisation that would create new "alianza" schools very similar to charters. At the same time, the government plans to shut down more than 250 traditional public schools this summer. widespread school closures are planned.

However, other districts that applied for the pilot aren't planning to use the flexibility to create or bolster school choice.

Those districts, which are still waiting for a thumbs-up from the department on their plans, include California's Wilsona district, Oregon's Salem-Kaizer district 24J, and Pennsylvania's Upper Adams district.

One of the districts applying—Indianapolis—already has a school choice program, and uses a similar, student-based formula to distribute its state and local dollars. But participating in the pilot isn't a way to bolster the district's existing choice program or create a new one, said Carrie Cline Black, a district spokeswoman.

Districts that wanted to apply to participate in the pilot for the 2018-19 school year had to let the department know in March. But districts that are interested in participating in the 2019-20 have until July 15 to raise their hands for the pilot.

Click here for complete coverage of how Puerto Rico's schools are recovering from Hurricane Maria. 

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:

Photo by Swikar Patel for Education Week. 

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