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School Choice Bipartisanship?

President Barack Obama recently gave speeches on higher and K-12 education, making it likely that educational policy is a subject of interest this campaign season. Professor Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado said on August 23, that he thought education was “shaping up to be a major issue” this election cycle. “The president has devoted the past week to education, starting with a radio address on Saturday and continuing with a swing through Ohio and then yesterday he was in Las Vegas talking about budget cuts and teachers and growing class size,” said Welner, also the Director of the National Education Policy Center. “School choice is a big part of the education discussion.”

According to Professor Welner, “Governor [Mitt] Romney has made the voucherization of Title I and IDEA, or special education funding, a centerpiece of his educational policy.” He continued, “Essentially what he’s promoting is federal vouchers and his proposed policy would mark a huge change in the federal role.”

At the forum Western Michigan University Professor Gary Miron also noted at the forum that school choice is quite prevalent in the United States, according to his definition. “It was rather surprising to us to find that in the nation as a whole and across those six categories or six types of school choice that we looked at, close to 30% of the nation’s public school students are choosing another school than the one that they are assigned to,” he said. Professor Miron and Professor Welner are two of the four authors of Exploring the School Choice Universe: Evidence and Recommendations. The six categories of school choice identified in the book are

  1. homeschooling,
  2. cyberschools,
  3. magnet schools
  4. open enrollment policies
  5. school choice between districts, and
  6. tuition tax credits or “neovouchers.”

According to Professor Miron, open enrollment policies and school choice between districts make up the bulk of what the authors consider school choice, with close to 9 million students participating. Homeschooling had approximately 2 million students, charter schools had approximately 1.9 million students, and virtual schools had about 250,000 full-time students, he said.

“Everyone’s a choice supporter now, but we all have to decide, I think, what kind of choice supporter we are,” argued Adam Schaeffer, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, at the event. Alex Medler, of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers agreed, calling school choice a “bipartisan” issue. However, argued Schaeffer, it’s not enough to say you support school choice; we need to get into the “nitty gritty of the policy details.”

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