In a major address and policy white paper on education, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney proposed to allow students enrolled in special education programs to use the federal dollars tied to their disability to attend a public, charter, or (when permitted by state law) private school of their choice.
The basic principle behind Romneyâ€™s planâ€”that the dollars spent to educate a child should be portable as students move to their preferred schoolâ€”is a powerful one with the potential to fundamentally improve the relationship between students and their schools. Of course, special education is primarily a state and local responsibility and any presidentâ€™s policies will have effect only at the margins.
Nonetheless, if enacted, Romneyâ€™s proposed policy could set an important precedent that further pushes states in a direction many of them have drifted over the last decade. At worst, Romneyâ€™s plan would better utilize the relatively small amount of federal resources in education. At best, this policy might encourage states to buttress the effectiveness of federal reform by allowing state and local education dollars to follow students as well. Floridaâ€™s decade-long experience with special education vouchers suggests that Romneyâ€™s proposal would indeed be effective policy.