The Douglas County School District is examining starting a voucher program to give students state money to attend private or religious schools.
The school board this summer hired a Colorado Springs lawyer to develop a plan for a voucher system that would give parents 75 percent of state per-pupil funds to attend “nonpublic schools,” which could include religious schools.
No other Colorado school district has a voucher program.
What’s “news” to the Post has actually been in the works since June. Douglas County School District is Colorado’s third largest, serving about 60,000 students. Like most districts, Douglas County has wrestled with severe budget cuts in recent years. Voucher programs, study after study shows, actually save money by funding children directly and eliminating the bureaucratic filter.
Naturally, the word “voucher” cannot appear in a major newspaper without an accompanying paragraph or two that attempts to gin up controversy. Think the unions and their friends will sit still for this one? To ask the question is to answer it.
This scares the hell out of me,” said Cindy Barnard, a Douglas County parent who is on one of the other subcommittees. “Mixing public funds for private schools, in my opinion, is wrong.”
“We come from a fabulous school district, and they are high-performing schools,” said Barnard, who is a parent to a high-school student and a recent graduate. “Ninety-eight percent of our parents are very happy with Douglas County schools. I truly believe the Option Certificate Program has the possibility to destroy the district.”
First, let’s set aside the hyperbole. If DCSD is doing a fabulous job and parents are happy, it’s extremely difficult to see how this proposal (still under consideration) would destroy the district. A close look at the proposal shows careful consideration has been given to ensuring public and parental accountability and compliance with existing laws. Any final decision also will have to take those issues into account.
Also, a couple persons interviewed in the story expressed their concerns about a possible negative fiscal impact on the district were this plan to be adopted. So I respond: What if the plan included private school choice AND provided a fiscal benefit to the district on a per-pupil basis? What if the overall school choice plan (that includes better advertising available options, making the open enrollment process more parent-friendly, enhancing neighborhood school autonomy, improving charter school relations and expanding services to home educators) yields similar benefits?
Indeed, what if the public schools in Douglas County, Colorado served the interests of taxpayers and parents, and not those of the unions and ranking members of the establishment with a vested interest in preserving the status quo? Public hearings on the Douglas County proposal are scheduled for this month, with a board vote expected in December. We’ll keep an eye on this one.