As James E. Ryan writes for The New York Times‘ Campaign Stops blog, the education plan the Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney unveiled last week flies in the face of conventional wisdom on district boundaries:
For the last half-century, just about every education reform — from desegregation to school choice — has taken care to keep city and suburban schools and students separate. Buses for school desegregation rarely crossed the urban-suburban boundary, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 1974, which meant that suburban students would not have to participate in court-ordered desegregation of city schools.
Most modern school choice plans have followed the same pattern by offering students choices among schools within the same school district. A perfect example is the No Child Left Behind Act, which allows kids in “failing” schools to choose another school, as long as it is within the same district.
What these reforms have in common is that they have protected the exclusivity of suburban public schools and have ensured that city students would stay put in city schools.
But is what Romney has proposed — allowing low income and disabled students to attend the public or charter school of their choice — really so different than what happened in Indiana when the state took over school general fund in 2009 and changed the rules regarding transfer tuition? Now that schools don’t have to charge out-of-district students to attend, there’s been an uptick in movement between school corporations as well as an increase in schools advertising beyond their boundaries.
Jeb Bush wrote the foreword to Romney’s white paper, so it shouldn’t surprise Hoosiers that the plan echoes what’s already happening in Indiana. After all, State Superintendent Tony Bennett has said he really admires what the former governor has done in Florida.
Ryan, the author of the NY Times piece, wrote the book on disparities between suburban and urban public school systems. He says Romney’s education policy will only be revolutionary if suburban schools aren’t able to opt out under the auspice of capacity concerns, leaving only choices in the private sector for students looking to transfer.