The second part of the document critiques the Obama administration’s approach as being mostly about using the federal funds to bail out local school districts that, because of tough economic times, are laying off teachers. The white paper notes that Romney supports the goals of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative but says the program was underfunded and poorly designed.
So what are Romney’s reform plans? With respect to K-12 education, the most significant reform advocated is to change Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which, since 1965, has provided funding for support programs for those who are disadvantaged, such as those whose with minimal family income or limited English proficiency.
Currently, federal funds under Title I (about $25 billion in the current fiscal year) typically flow to schools based on the number of disadvantaged pupils in that school or district. A similar change is advocated with respect to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), an act passed in 1990 but which built upon earlier legislation to help students with disabilities. A large portion of federal spending on education is related to these two portions of federal law.
IDEA, like Title I, generally directs money to schools providing services, but, according to the white paper, a “Romney administration will work with Congress to overhaul Title I and IDEA so that low-income and special-needs students can choose which school to attend and bring their funding with them.” In a few states, such as Louisiana, students could take Title I dollars to a private school; most students will take those dollars to other public schools.
To provide for greater choices for parents and students, Romney proposes that states will be required to have open enrollment in public school districts so that if a neighboring district to where a child lives has capacity, that district would have to accept the student. This is inter-district public school choice.
There was a provision for inter-district choice in NCLB but very few students—perhaps only 2 percent of those eligible—take advantage of the provision. If there were greater inter-district choice, public choice districts would be competing for more students and would seek to offer a better opportunity to students and parents as a means of attracting more students.