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Romney Considering Big School Choice Expansion

By Alyson Klein — May 22, 2012 2 min read
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Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been mulling some big changes to federal K-12 policy if elected, including allowing federal funding to follow students—even if they want to attend private schools—according to a campaign document obtained by Politics K-12. UPDATED: The Romney plan as sketched-out in a speech this morning tracks closely with the document.

Disadvantaged families and parents of students in special education could choose to spend federal funds at any district or charter public school, tutoring provider, or online course, according to the document circulated over the weekend. It outlines a series of ideas that have been considered by Romney and his advisers, which could be announced as early as this week. Under the proposal, students could also federal money at a private school, as long as that was consistent with state guidelines.

According to the document, states would also be encouraged to adopt open enrollment policies, and to eliminate caps on charter and online schools. The document also indicates that Romney may seek to expand the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, a federally funded program in the District of Columbia that supporters fear has been put on thin budget ice by the Obama administration.

The document doesn’t have many specifics on Romney’s vision for a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, but what it does say appears to be in keeping with the general direction of bills introduced by Republicans on Capitol Hill, including U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., which passed the House education committee earlier this year. Instead of federally mandated interventions—such as the School Improvement Grants—states would be encouraged to create school report cards that provide parents with a range of information about a particular school’s effectiveness.

It would be up to local leaders to decide which schools to target for interventions, and what those interventions should be, a Romney campaign source said in explaining the document.

When it comes to teachers, the document says that Romney would like to block-grant existing federal funds for teacher quality for states that “attract and reward good teachers.” Romney also wants to scrap “unnecessary certification requirements,” according to the documents.

There’s a lot of mention of “high-standards” in the document—but nothing on the Common Core State Standards Initiative specifically. Still, it’s hard to imagine Romney coming out swinging against common core, given that one of his top advisers is Tom Luna, the Idaho state chief and the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped spearhead the common standards effort.

And when it comes to higher education, Romney may advocate a U-Turn from many of President Barack Obama’s policies, a Romney campaign source said. As you probably recall, Obama got rid of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which uses subsidized lenders, in favor of the Direct Lending program, in which students borrow right from the federal government.

While Romney may not seek to reinstate FFELP, he definitely sees more of a role for the private sector in administering student loans, a Romney campaign source said. And, like most Republicans, he’s not a huge fan of the Obama administration’s regulations on gainful employment rules, which GOP lawmakers on the Hill have argued hurt for-profit colleges. Romney is also seeking to “overhaul and enhance” the Pell Grant program, the source said.

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