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Is Newt Gingrich an Edu-Flip-Flopper?

The GOP's current presidential frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, has one of the longest records on K-12 policy in the Republican field. His views on education have gotten a lot of attention lately. But they have been—and seem to still be—all over the map.

For instance, Mr. Gingrich said in a recent debate that he likes the Race to the Top, the grant competition run by the feds that rewards states for embracing certain reform priorities, including the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

But he's also said he'd like to "shrink" the federal Education Department. And in 1995, as speaker of the House, he backed an effort to scrap the department altogether.

Back in 2008, Mr. Gingrich and then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona endorsed the mission statement of the Education Equality Project, which calls for strong accountability at all levels, including the school and district levels.

Mr. Gingrich even appeared with the Rev. Al Sharpton—and then-incoming Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—at a school in Washington during President Barack Obama's inauguration to push the Education Equality Project's mission.

The project's manifesto frames education as a civil rights issue. It also says that the signatories must insist that elected officials confront and address head-on crucial issues that it says created the crisis in education, such as teachers' contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in classrooms and too often make it nearly impossible to get the best teachers paired up with the students who most need them; school funding mechanisms that ignore the reality that students are supposed to be the primary focus of schools; and enrollment policies that consign poor, minority students to the lowest-performing schools.

That sounds like a tall order, particularly the part about confronting "state policies." It doesn't seem to be in line with where many Republicans on Capitol Hill are today when it comes to K-12.

So, do these ideas square with a significantly slimmed-down Education Department? And does Mr. Gingrich's record on K-12 make him an education-flip-flopper or someone with nuanced, evolving positions?

—Alyson Klein


Concern Grows Over Spec. Ed. Vouchers

As the number of private school voucher and scholarship programs for students with disabilities across the country grows, meeting a variety of challenges along the way, one lawmaker in Florida is taking a hard look at that state's program.

Florida's McKay Scholarships Program is one of the oldest private-school-voucher options for students with disabilities. Over the summer, the Miami New Times wrote a scathing piece about some of the schools that accept the vouchers. Here's one description:

"Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the 'campus' as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks."

Other problems at private schools paid state money to educate students with disabilities were staff members that had criminal records; students who were enrolled using their personal information, even though the students were attending public schools, so the schools could collect state money; and students who were found to be driving school vans during field trips.

Now, state Rep. Rick Kriseman wants big changes to the state's program, which does not require accreditation for private schools that are eligible for the vouchers. And without curriculum regulations, writes The Bradenton Times, the state's department of education can't get a refund, even if schools exploit the scholarships.

The namesake of the scholarships—John McKay, who created the program after struggling to find a school that could meet the needs of his daughter, who has disabilities—agrees. He said part of the problem is that the state isn't enforcing existing oversight provisions built into the scholarship law.

Last school year, the program paid $148.5 million to private schools for about 22,200 students. The scholarships paid to the roughly 1,000 schools participating ranged from $4,752 to $19,510, depending on a child's disability. The state expanded eligibility for the scholarships to include students who have so-called 504 plans, in addition to students with disabilities who have individualized education programs. That move was expected to significantly expand the McKay Scholarship program.

—Nirvi Shah

Vol. 31, Issue 14, Page 12

Published in Print: December 14, 2011, as Blogs of the Week
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