I’m mad. Hopefully, you will be mad too when you are done with this. Because it is about 500 kids getting caught in a political machine.
Over the past 6 months I’ve been watching the controversy going on over school vouchers in the Douglas County School District here in Colorado. To give you a quick and dirty back story-Dougco, as it is locally referred to, was the first school district in Colorado to approve a voucher system that allows families to take some of the dollars earmarked for their child’s public school education and divert it to a school of their choice. The amount boiled down to $4,500 of the roughly $6,000 alotted to each child in Dougco. The parent could take that ‘scholarship’ and use it to pay for tuition at many area private schools that were approved by the district. The remaining 25% would go towards running the program and potentially offset any school classrooms that had a mass exodus due to the program.
500 families were funded for this program. Roughly 575 applied. Out of 60,000 students in Dougco! That tells me a heck of a lot of parents are happy with their kids in Dougco schools. Awesome to see that they are doing such a great job that 59,475 families were content to stay where they were, give or take a few.
I can’t help but to applaud a school district for realizing that while the majority of their families are satisfied, there are still kids that had needs not being met in their school district. The impetus behind this voucher system was to offer assistance to those kids that existing Dougco programs weren’t working for. To offer their families a CHOICE.
But of course, people had to stir the bee’s bonnet and now Douglas County Schools and the Colorado Department of Education are being sued by ACLU, a group called TaxPayers for Public Education, and a handful of citizens. The plaintiffs are challenging the legality of the Dougco Scholarship program claiming school funding laws do not permit government funds to go to private schools.
But the thing is, Dougco isn’t really funding schools. They are funding kids. They are making a statement that they respect a parents right to choose their child’s educational path and realize they may not be the best answer for all kids.
Isn’t that something we should be applauding? and supporting?
I have a Masters Degree in Education. I taught in public schools, both in an affluent area and the first school for homeless children in the US. My kids have done everything from public school, private school, homeschool, and cyberschool. Right now one of my kids is homeschooled and the other is in a private religious school. We live in the Cherry Creek School District (so note: I have nothing to gain by Dougco vouchers). I bear the financial burden of their education while still paying my tax dollars. I consider myself pretty well versed in school choice AND I don’t care what you choose for your kids. I DO care that you have a choice though. And this was a big step forward in making school choice a reality.
Sadly, without the financial resources, for many families school choice is not a reality. That is why Dougco’s program was so revolutionary. Because not only were they saying we respect your choice as parents, we will SUPPORT you in your choice. They weren’t seeking to give these parents a handout, they were giving them a portion of the money they would spend if that child were in the Dougco system. It could be argued that they were actually gaining $1500 to put back into their schools for each child that opted in.
Because of this lawsuit, 500 families are now scrambling to figure out what they will do when school starts. Dougco has already started back. How sad is that? Can you imagine having to tell your kid that they don’t get to go to the school they had their heart set on 2 days before? Can you imagine being the mom, with 3 jobs, of the kiddo with autism that was attacked in school last year that he has to go back there? These are 500 families with real stories of why they need assistance in making school choice a reality. Not only is the lawsuit vicious but the timing of it is inconceivably cruel.
And for what? What were the people who brought on this suit so afraid of? That giving parents the resources to truly have school choice would harm the ‘system’? The one that thousands of families are happy with? Or that their public dollars would be used to fund Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? We are talking about people in Parker, CO. You can’t get more conservative than that town, can you? I think we are safe to trust them. Or are we going to hide behind the “big picture” of what this would open up statewide? What if this was a success? Would other districts follow? Would real school reform begin to happen? I can only think of a few groups that stand to gain by not wanting school reform. And it isn’t the parents, or the kids. Or in this case, the actual school district. They weren’t afraid to say they could do better by their families.
Shouldn’t everyone be concerned with doing better for families? Don’t families deserve our respect and support? I think so. I will continue to pull for Dougco families right to school choice and stand up to applaud any school district that isn’t afraid of true reform. I hope other school districts do follow their example. It’s a pretty excellent standard to live up to.