Let Title I Money Follow the Child and Other Creative School Choice Ideas

You think school choice just means a state voucher program or public charter schools? Think again. We are living in an age of all kinds of creative school choice ideas. First you have our own Douglas County School District, which is moving forward to create a local voucher program — among several other school choice enhancements. Today in the Colorado legislature we have a big hearing on House Bill 1048, which would provide tax credit relief for parents who switch students to private or home schooling.

As a state school choice policy with a twist, Matt Ladner and the Goldwater Institute are touting the idea of Education Savings Accounts, something reportedly being considered as a reform idea by Florida’s new governor Rick Scott. Then there’s the Foundation for Educational Choice, which has researched and promoted the idea of school passports as a way to radically re-think federal education stimulus spending.

Writing today on the National Journal’s Education Experts blog, Colorado’s own State Board of Education chairman Bob Schaffer offers up another idea for a school choice initiative using federal dollars but crafted at the state level:

How about making Title I (money for districts “serving” low-income families) 100% portable? Why not the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? Why not Title III (the old Title VII) – the “Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students?”

There are myriad other program funds that could be put in a kid’s backpack, too, and carried with him to wherever the child receives the best services.

For example, there is a rapidly growing number of Title-I kids in the Denver Public School District evading virtually guaranteed academic casualty by receiving online services from other school districts. Why shouldn’t the Title I funds associated with these kids shift to the district providing them services?

Why not to a private school that rescues the same child?

The creative suggestion here is as much about enhancing school choice as alleviating the painful burden of federal bureaucracy. Colorado is ahead of most states when it comes to the availability of quality K-12 online learning options. Some of these school district and charter programs cater to at-risk kids. But I’ve heard the federal Title I dollars designated to help low-income students in many cases aren’t making it to the schools and programs actually serving them. That’s a problem the federal government should back away from and empower the states to solve, as Mr. Schaffer said.

We talk a lot about the “money following the child” (hmmm, I’ve always liked that phrase for some reason), but actually getting it done to the benefit of students far too often requires tangling with entrenched interest groups clinging to limited resources. Twenty-eleven would be a terrific time to see all these creative ideas break through.