Romney Needs an I.E.P.* on School Funding

The big education story today is Mitt Romney's “education platform,” which was unveiled, curiously, during a speech to the Latino Coalition (where he didn’t mention “self-deportation.”) He did say that education was the “civil rights issue of our time,” a phrase used by everyone from President Obama to George W. Bush to Arne Duncan to (more locally) Chris Christie and Chris Cerf.

 Response has been, well, mixed. Andy Rotherham says “it’s basically President George W. Bush’s education policy – but without the accountability.” Other commentary refers to a presumed pandering to the ebbing support of the Hispanic community given Romney's troglodytic attitude towards the Dream Act. Also see reactions from Politics K-12, NPR, New York Times, Wall Street JournalMike Petrelli, Politico, and NEA.

Reports the New York Times,
Mr. Romney’s biggest departure from existing policy was his call for poor students and those with disabilities to be able to attend any public school in their state — “or a private school where permitted by law” — and to have federal funds follow them, rather than the current system in which the money stays with a student’s local school.
Romney's proposed "policy" betrays a cavernous lack of understanding of the nuances of school funding, particularly in the realm of special education. Students with disabilities already can attend private schools at the district's expense, provided that the I.E.P. team decides that a private placement is the least restrictive environment for the student. In addition federal money comprises only about 10% of school costs, which won’t go far with private school tuition for both poor students and kids with special needs. Edweek’s Special Education blog comments,
But it appears Romney didn't consult with special education advocacy groups before making his pitch. While special education vouchers have grown in popularity in recent years, the number of programs is small, and the number of participants is also tiny.  
Many advocacy groups warn parents against using vouchers for students with disabilities because, in doing so, they give up their rights outlined in federal education and disability laws. And they may not know that. 
"We have to remember that a family with a child who has a disability never really has the same choice as others. By virtue of having a disability that qualifies them for an Individualized Education Program, a private school for instance, would never guarantee via a voucher that they would provide a free appropriate public education and the services outlined in the IEP," said Laura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
* I.E.P.: Individualized Education Plan, a federally mandated contract between a child with disabilities and a school district that delineates services,  accommodations, and modifications to the curriculum in order to provide a free and appropriate public education.

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