It doesn’t look like new flexibility offered by the Every Student Succeeds Act is turning out to be the bonanza for school choice that some supporters were hoping.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and other school choice fans were excited about the potential of a new pilot program in ESSA that allows districts to 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 carry with them more money than other students.
The program could be used to help districts set up public school choice programs, although that’s not a must. Still, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute published an analysis last year by Matthew Joseph, of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, exploring how the pilot could be used as a vehicle for choice. And Jason Botel, who is the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education, gave the pilot a high-profile shout-out early in his tenure.
So far, though, there haven’t been many takers. The law allows up to 50 districts to participate in the first few years of the pilot, with the possibility of more joining in down the road if things are running smoothly.
But only one district—Arizona’s Roosevelt School District #66—has applied to use the flexibility in the 2019-20 school year by a July 15 deadline. Roosevelt is hoping the pilot will help it provide more equitable funding to different student groups, said Sareena Cheriakakramcherry, the district’s director of federal programs, in an email.
And Roosevelt joins just five other districts that raised their hands to join the pilot in the 2018-19 school year. They are: California’s Wilsona School District, Oregon’s Salem-Keizer School District 24J, Pennsylvania’s Upper Adams School District, Indianapolis, and Puerto Rico’s island-wide school district. Puerto Rico is the only district who has been approved to participate in the pilot so far.
So far, none of the school districts that applied for the flexibility in the 2018-19 school year are planning to use the pilot to create a school choice program, with the possible exception of Puerto Rico.
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