Romney: Coupon Conservative – Education Coupon Problems

As of the 2007-08 school year there were 21,582 Nevada youngsters enrolled in non-public schools, 74.9% of whom lived in either Clark or Washoe counties.   The total private school enrollment represents about 5% of the total K-12 enrollment in the state.  Private school enrollments are highest in K-3 and decline as the grade level increases.  [NDoE pdf] While the Romney Campaign has offered few details about his educational policies — Now, why are we not surprised by that? — the outlines are shaping up as Coupon Conservatism primarily benefiting those private schools. There are some pieces of the puzzle from the former Massachusetts Governor:

“Right now, some $26 billion in federal funds goes to districts based on how many of those students – whose needs tend to increase the costs of education – attend their schools. Romney would instead provide a voucher of sorts that would allow each student to take the federal funds and use them to attend any in-state school of the family’s choice, potentially including private schools.”

“For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to the student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school of their choice,’’ Romney said. [BostonGlobe](emphasis added)

The Numbers Game

The Glitch: The “voucher of sorts” nomenclature may allow the campaign to say This Isn’t A Voucher Program — without saying…This is a Voucher Program.  It’s also confusing.  Federal funding for K-12 education isn’t a single large pot portioned out on a per child basis.

For example, how would the Romney Administration allocate funding per child IF the federal money “travels with the child?”  Is the child eligible for PL 874 “impact funding?”  PL81- 874 allocates funding to school districts which serve Native American youngsters who live on non-taxed tribal lands.  [Fed funding pdf] Would the Department of Education have to calculate a “withdrawal coupon value” for a Reservation youngster who enrolls in a charter or non-public school?

Is the child eligible for Title I Migrant education programs?  Or does he or she attend a school eligible for Title I “basic” funding?  Is the child eligible for funding for educating abused, neglected, or delinquent young persons?  Is the child currently attending a public school which receives IDEA funding?  Or,  occupational and vocational training funds?

Does federal funding appropriated for teacher training, curriculum development, and other educational improvement programs become part of the pot and divvied up on a per individual student basis?  Are Title IX funds for training and professional development part of the Student’s Coupon?

Does he or she take the lunch money too?  Does some poor soul have to determine if the youngster is eligible for free or reduced price school lunches?  If so, does the allocation to the state have to be calculated on a per child basis and sent along with the child to his or her new school?  Is the little pupil eligible for services for special needs students?  Are funds appropriated for the training of food service personnel who provide meals for special needs children to be included in the “per child coupon?”

Who gets to calculate the value of commodity food and sort out the price tags associated with federal and state reimbursement rates?  Is this to be part of the “per child coupon?”

Not to belabor this point, but if we simply add up all the federal funding sent to the State of Nevada and divide it up by the total enrollment numbers, then is a first grader enrolling in a private school who is not classified as a special needs student; who is not eligible for free or reduced price lunches, who does not live on a Reservation, and who is not of an age to benefit from occupational education and training funds … taking money with him to which he is not entitled?  Is he or she entitled to “take money” along that has been allocated for science education equipment? For teacher training and professional development?

If we agree that federal funding for specific targeted purposes (Special Education, Nutrition Programs, PL 81-874, Title I, etc.) should be retained for those who truly need the services — then who has to calculate precisely what amount of money follows each individual child?  There’s an accounting issue of the first water — whomever has to perform all the calculations.  Sound easy? Then remember that there are 55,350,000 youngsters enrolled in U.S. public schools. [NCES]

Perhaps these questions are why the Romney campaign is being a bit vague about the details?  The former Governor hasn’t clarified what constitutes “the federal funds” which might be equitably “linked to the student” and until that happens all we have in hand is a accounting nightmare of astounding proportions.

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