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Candidates’ education policies separated by notion of vouchers

FILE - In this Thursday Sept. 27 2012 file phoPresident Barack Obamstops for phowith members Vox HarmoniVisual Performing Arts Academy

FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama stops for a photo with members of the Vox Harmonia Visual and Performing Arts Academy Salem High School at a campaign event at Farm Bureau Live in Virginia Beach, Va. Obama and Mitt Romney are dueling over the size of government and defense cuts, pouring tens of millions of dollars into this crucial battleground, a state where military spending adds enormous sums to the local economy. The winner will claim VirginiaÌs 13 critical electoral votes - and most likely, better odds for capturing the White House. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Updated: October 22, 2012 11:06AM



President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have tossed barbs back and forth about the economy, foreign policy and Medicare for months.

Their differences are many, but on the topic of federal K-12 education policy, the two are mostly in agreement. Priorities such as reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law, rewarding great teachers, and expanding charter and online education options are supported by each candidate, though the devil is in the details.

Obama has focused his energy on spurring states to raise standards and hold teachers to tougher accountability measures through the Race To The Top initiative, and advocates hiring 2 million new science and math teachers. Romney suggested schools create detailed report cards on student progress and proposed giving states block grants if they pass legislation reforming or eliminating teacher tenure.

The major difference seems to be Romney’s proposal that the federal Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds be portable for students, so they can be used as a voucher if they choose to attend a private school. Obama is opposed to private school voucher programs.

Currently, schools and districts are given Title I funding based on the level of poverty in the community, for remediation programs and to address learning deficits. Students in private schools receive Title I and IDEA services at their local public schools. Unlike the state funding formula, Title I and IDEA funds aren’t distributed on a per student basis.

Terry Spradlin, director of education policy at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, said the state has made its basic grant to students portable in recent years, but it’s unclear how legislators would make federal education grants portable.

“It’s been somewhat successful, but for the billions that have been spent on Title I, I’m not sure the effectiveness has been that great,” Spradlin said. “So rather than give the money to a district, the proposal would allow Title I funds to be portable particularly for students in persistently failing or underperforming schools.”

Not fixing the cause?

Merrillville Community School Corp. Superintendent Tony Lux has concerns with the policies of both candidates.

“The Romney plan is all about saving money,” Lux said. “There will be cuts in the funding of education, which is probably the ultimate wrong and greatest of all evils. It’s attacking the symptoms rather than the root causes of the problem. That’s where the voucher concept of letting the money follow the kids comes in. It’s the mentality of, ‘Fend for yourself because we’re not about to go in and fix the root issues.’”

Indiana students can receive up to $4,500 in private school vouchers if they demonstrate financial need. In 2011-2012, around 4,000 students took advantage of the voucher program, and this year, the program will accept 9,300 students.

Lux said he’s troubled by the school choice movement, where taxpayer dollars sometimes fund unproven education options.

“We need to take kids who are underachieving and make sure they are getting a quality education and getting more of it,” Lux said. “The ultimate problem we have is how much time a child spends in a non-stimulating environment where education is not a priority, versus a stimulating school environment.”

Michael Petrilli, vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said it’s not clear whether making federal funds portable would fully cover the amount of tuition at a given school. The Fordham Institute is a not-for-profit think tank promoting charter expansion, common-core standards and voucher programs.

“It’s hard to know for sure, as we don’t have enough details about the plan,” Petrilli said. “But if it works like No Child Left Behind’s supplemental services program (the ‘free tutoring’ program), then it would depend on each district’s federal allocations.”

For example, Petrilli said, each child in Merrillville receives around $1,100 in federal funds for supplemental services, which is Title I money, so each child may be eligible to take that amount to the school of their choice.



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