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Obama vs. Romney 101: 5 differences on education

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3. School choice

Romney’s major policy proposal is to enable low-income and disabled students to bring their federal funding with them to the school of their choice.

This would require an overhaul of Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (special education funds). 

Romney would require states receiving these funds to allow eligible students to attend public schools outside their own district, and to ensure that charter school choices can expand to meet demand. Private schools would also be an option for this portable funding, if allowed by state law, which brings the controversial voucher issue onto the table. 

Congress is unlikely to want to change the current formulas by which these grants are distributed to states and schools, education analysts say.

Romney’s plan is in a bit of a tricky position, “because certainly the [Republican] base likes school choice, but they also like a limited federal role in education,” says Michael Petrilli, an education expert and executive vice president at Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington.

Obama has his own awkwardness with the Democratic base on the choice issue. He has been more supportive of charter schools than many other Democrats – most notably by telling states they’d be unlikely to win part of the $4 billion Race to the Top competition if they didn’t have charter laws or if they capped the number of charter schools that could open. Obama has also included support for charter schools in his budget proposals.

Romney says he’ll expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher system in Washington that allows about 1,600 students to attend private schools.

Obama requested no funding for the D.C. program in his 2013 budget proposal.

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