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States Can Use Part of ESSA to Increase Choice. Will DeVos Promote It?

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By Andrew Ujifusa

President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are intent on promoting school choice.

It's included in Trump's proposed "skinny" budget for fiscal 2018, and DeVos speaks about it regularly in public appearances. But is there a kind of choice DeVos could highlight that doesn't deal with controversial programs like vouchers?

This week, Andrew Ujifusa and Liana Loewus teamed up for a look at course access programs in various states. Also known as course choice, these programs allow students to take different academic courses a la carte, from Advanced Placement classes to remedial work. Defining course access can be tricky, but there are roughly 15 states that provide it to students in some fashion.

The story takes an extensive look at the pros and cons of a course choice program in Idaho called Fast Forward. Students there have over $4,000 each to use on various high school and college-credit-bearing courses. However, they can't use it to take remedial classes. We also talk to analysts who discuss course access in general, as well as officials and others in Louisiana and New Mexico. 

In fact, DeVos has already highlighted a part of the Every Student Succeeds Act that allows states to set aside 3 percent of their Title I money for so-called direct student services, which can include course choice. She can't force states to set aside that cash, or use it for course access. But unlike private school vouchers, it's an allowable use of money under ESSA.

Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stands at far left as President Donald Trump prepares to sign various bills at a ceremony on March 27 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Among the bills the President signed were two that rolled back Obama-era education regulations. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

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