Home » News & Analysis » Opinions » School Choice is Key Issue in Election

School Choice is Key Issue in Election

School Choice Mania
by Fawn Johnson
National Journal
May 29, 2012

Until last week, even some of Mitt Romney’s own advisers were scratching their heads about how a Romney White House would handle education. Is the former Massachusetts governor an “Abolish the Education Department” guy? Or is he a staunch education reform guy like President George W. Bush? The bold education plan hot off the press from the Romney campaign indicates that the Republican presidential contender is closer to the latter camp.

The most radical piece of Romney’s education plan would require states to give disadvantaged students open enrollment to all schools–public and private–throughout the state. Romney wants federal Title I funding, which is intended for low-income students, as well as funding for students with disabilities, to be tied to open enrollment policies. Those funds now are doled out by individual communities to schools with the highest percentage of disadvantaged students. Romney’s idea turns this localized funding mechanism on its head, setting up a host of logistical questions and a potential regulatory mess. What happens if a good school is overbooked already? What happens to the schools that everyone might ditch? Do the same choice opportunities apply to middle-income students at Title I schools?

Romney’s school choice plan is an excellent political tool because it taps into his deeply-seeded notion that competition is the answer to almost every problem. It also answers a clarion conservative call for more parental choice in schools and gives him a chance to trash President Obama for zeroing out the District of Columbia’s popular school voucher program.

Is Romney’s school choice plan workable? Is it politically smart? What hurdles would he encounter if he tried to enact it? Are there other ways to have federal funds “follow the child,” as Romney would do? If Romney’s school choice plan did not apply to private schools, would it make a difference? How should the federal government accommodate state and district capacity restrictions in implementing such a plan?

Response — School Choice is Key Issue in Election
By Jeanne Allen

It was encouraging to see ed reform being talked about in this campaign season. We agree that school choice is where Mitt Romney and President Obama’s education plans differ the most and believe that it could be a defining issue in the campaign. Here’s what I said last week after the Romney plan was released:

“Both candidates are now firmly fighting for the education reform moral high ground. But it is school choice, which the Black Alliance for Education Options and others consider the true civil rights issue of our time, where Romney and Obama differ. Here in D.C., Governor Romney has defended the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Today everyone from parents to the Washington Post are urging President Obama not to kill it. This indeed could be the defining issue of the 2012 presidential campaign – whether our next President is courageous enough to buck the status quo and truly embrace a bold reform agenda that puts parents interests ahead of special interests. We salute any leader who does just that.”