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Details of Romney's School Choice Plan Emerge

It's official now: presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wants to attach federal Title I and IDEA dollars to individual students, according to his remarks in Washington on Wednesday and his "A Chance for Every Child" plan for reforming education.

The proposal would give low-income students and students with disabilities the chance to pick which school they attend from among regular public schools, charter schools, and private schools, in states where that would be allowed by state law. (This is what my colleague Alyson Klein and I guessed from another document the Romney camp was circulating over the weekend.) Students could also use the money to pay for tutoring or online classes.campaign2012.JPG

But it appears Romney didn't consult with special education advocacy groups before making his pitch. While special education vouchers have grown in popularity in recent years, the number of programs is small, and the number of participants is also tiny.

Many advocacy groups warn parents against using vouchers for students with disabilities because, in doing so, they give up their rights outlined in federal education and disability laws. And they may not know that.

"We have to remember that a family with a child who has a disability never really has the same choice as others. By virtue of having a disability that qualifies them for an Individualized Education Program, a private school for instance, would never guarantee via a voucher that they would provide a free appropriate public education and the services outlined in the IEP," said Laura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

In addition, the Council for Exceptional Children's Lindsay Jones says that it's the wrong time to consider siphoning special education funding from public schools.

"This proposal's potential to take money out of our public school system and place it in the hands of private business is also especially concerning at this point in time," Jones said. "School districts around the nation have seen deep cuts in funding over the last few years as our nation confronts a recession, increased needs, and declining revenues. These cuts have impacted districts' ability to provide services to children in need—further cuts won't help."

Here's a detail I just learned about: According to Romney's plan, students who use federal funds to attend private schools will be required to participate in the state's testing system (which is sometimes the reason parents choose private schools in the first place, regardless of who is paying for it).

Other details of his plan:

•To expand choices for parents, Romney said states accepting Title I and IDEA funds will have to adopt open-enrollment policies that allow eligible students to attend public schools that have the capacity to serve them outside their school district.
•States will have to provide access to and appropriate funding levels for online courses and schools.
•And states will have to be sure that charter school programs can expand to meet demand and get funding under the same formula that applies to all other publicly-supported schools and access capital funds.

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