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Romney’s education plan: Ask the right questions, give the wrong answers

May 23, 2012

So Mitt Romney just unveiled his new education plan.  He unveiled it in a speech to the Latino Coalition’s annual small business summit at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a speech which wasn’t broadcast live and took place at the same time as President Obama’s Air Force Academy commencement speech, which has led some decidedly non-liberal people to conclude he was embarrassed about it.

But never mind that.  It got on the news anyway, thanks perhaps to some wonderfully stirring rhetoric he used in the speech.  He said that “millions of kids are getting a third-world education, and America’s minority children suffer the most.”  That education is “the civil rights issue of our era.”  Damn straight.  Finally somebody telling it like it is.  And since, unlike Obama, he’s white (and his political base is too), he can say the truth without being accused of race-baiting.  More people need to be talking about this.  That’s step one.  Step two is to offer some solutions, which Romney did not do.

His biggest proposal was a voucher plan to let low-income and disabled students use federal money to attend charter schools, private schools, or tutoring or digital courses.  Conservatives hoorayed it, the Obama administration and the teacher’s unions said it would drain money out of public schools, but I had to do some considerable digging around in the blogosphere before I got the answer to the question I was asking: would this voucher plan work?

That is to say, if a kid got a voucher, would it actually pay the cost of said kid’s entire education?

The answer is no.

According to Education Week:

Republicans in Washington have long been attracted to proposals to use federal funds for school vouchers, and in that context, Romney’s proposal is not unusual, Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. He described the Republican candidate’s school choice proposal as “an interesting idea,” though he said it could be difficult to implement, for a variety of reasons.

Federal per-student Title I and special-education funds, on their own, are probably not sufficient to cover many private school costs, though they could help if combined with state voucher money, Petrilli said. The broader challenge is that federal funding formulas currently do not distribute Title I and other funds in ways that make it easy to give it out individually among qualified students.

But they could still use the funds to attend charter schools, right?  Those are still sort of part of the public school system, in the sense of costing the same as regular public schools.

According to Yahoo News:

On a conference call with reporters before his speech, Romney’s domestic policy director Oren Cass acknowledged that schools would not always be able to take every child who wants to attend them under the plan. High-performing charter schools around the country often hold lotteries to admit only a fraction of students who apply, and there’s reason to believe that the best school in any given area will have to turn away some low-income students who want to attend with their voucher. But Cass said Romney would also encourage more quality charter schools to start up to offer more choices.

This “encouragement” does not include the funds required for quality charter schools to, say, open up more buildings or hire more teachers.  The L.A. Times reports:

Romney has said he would cut spending at the Department of Education.  […]
Romney has not proposed any new spending for education, his campaign said.

So basically that leaves the online schools.  If anybody thinks sending a ton of kids to them is going to improve student performance, Iv gawt a brige too sell yoo.

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