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Dougco Voucher Disaster

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.

Photo found on several blogs. Please contact me so I can credit you.

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.

 

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Comments

  1. Karin Malchow says:

    Since this is a website for kids, you may want to correct a math error. If 575 students applied out of 60,000 enrolled, then 59,425 children (not 55,000 families) were apparently satisfied. I think you may have accidentally subtracted the 500 scholarships as 5000.

    • barb says:

      Thanks. This is my personal blog. Facebook pulled the ad from my sidebar and identified that way when it was linked. :)

  2. Karin Malchow says:

    I am prone to that particular error myself, which is why I am always on the lookout for it.

  3. Becky Barnes says:

    Thank you so much for your support. I am currently one of the parents scrambling to get my kids back into neighborhood schools for next week. My son is one of the 33 with disabilities. He has Aspergers, Sensory Processing Disorder, OCD, and Anxiety Disorder. He is going into 7th grade and cannot handle the noise and stress of public middle school. My daughter also received a voucher, she is in 1st grade. We had her attending the same school as my son, because as a working mom having three kids attending three schools is near impossible. Please see my story at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOteAK2QOhk. It features both my sons. One in public school and the other who needs a different school setting that the district cannot provide at this time. We now have to put my son in cyber school because of this injunction. You have no idea how much your support means for us.

    • barb says:

      How in the world are they going to get him on a working IEP at this point for next week? It’s a nightmare for you AND the incoming public school that is now going to have to scramble to try to meet his basic needs. I’m so sorry. I don’t understand peoples agenda with this—well, I do, but I think it stinks

      • Becky Barnes says:

        We are going back to the Douglas County Cyber School, which is where he went last year. He is not on a IEP or 504, I have been trying since 1st grade. I have been told because he does not academically need it he does not qualify. We pulled him out of our neighborhood school last year when he was being bullied constantly. He was getting physically ill before school everyday. I work full time so the Cyber School is not our best option, but our only option now. With the voucher I had him in a private school with 20 kids in one class. He only had one teacher, did not have to switch classes, AND his teacher had personal experience with SPD. Tomorrow I have to meet with my employer to see if I am able to work from home 1 to 2 days a week and ask him if I can bring my son to work a few days as well. My mom, mother in law, and neighbor are willing to help also. Do you see how many people this has affected? Remember I am one of 500 stories, there are 499 more.

  4. Connie Weiss says:

    I’m sick over this.

    My family supports vouchers and think it’s ridiculous to take this choice away from deserving families.

    What can we do Barb?

    • barb says:

      You know Connie at this particular stage I think the best thing any of us can do is let your voice be heard on the matter. Just like you just did. As I understand it, and I hope someone corrects me if I am wrong, it is all in the courts hands now and expected to be heard eventually in Colorado Supreme Court.

  5. Chris Bird says:

    I’ve been following this story from the beginning and was sick to my stomach for the 500 families, like Becky’s who would now have no place to go come this week. I don’t live in Douglas County, but the idea of vouchers anywhere in Colorado means they could eventually come to your County and your state as well. We should fight for any district that is willing to give parents a choice in where their education tax dollars are spent are their own children.

    As was just shared by Karin Piper, “there is a DCSD Board meeting in Castle Rock on Tuesday night and they are expecting a HUGE anti-voucher crowd to shame the district for doing the scholarship program.” If you’re looking for what you can do to help, please show up at the meeting to show your support for the voucher program.

  6. Chrissy says:

    This is awful. But not surprising. I have no doubt a teacher’s union is somehow involved in funding this opposition. They have a vested interest in making sure the public school system doesn’t change. Good luck guys. You have my support.

  7. Diana Oakley says:

    My child is a Scholarship recipient. I must admit on Friday evening when the verdict was handed down I was quite distressed. I can not display this distress to my 13-year old Asperger kiddo. He requires predictibility and a non-anxious environment at home. I screamed into a pillow and when not with him let myself go “over the edge” a little; however, my anxiety has been greatly dimished with much appreciation to the Humanex Academy. The Humanex has (of course) been tracking the blow-by-blow coverage and knew that I have been fighting right along side my DougCo School Board and with a School District that serves my two younger children quite well. This is not about politics, a union, or my personal agenda – quite simply I am the one who knows Nathanial best – I need to send him to a school that is the best possible fit for him. I will persevere and continue to fight for the right of parents to determine which educational experience is best for their individual child. I appreciate all the folks that help support us.

  8. Denise says:

    I agree we definitely need reform. I personally have a hard time with how public schools are using funds, especially when it comes to Central Administration. Back in late 90’s schools had it good, they were funded wonderfully, districts added Central Administration positions like they were a dime a dozen. On average 2-3 teachers salaries could be funded on 1 Central Administrators salary. Some small districts have 20 Central Ad positions! BLOAT to the gills! I believe in small class size, more teachers to focus on a child’s needs. Not necessarily creating more classes, but I had on average 32 fifth graders with no support, it was tough. In certain cases funding to support those situations would make a huge difference.

    As far as vouchers, I can see the benefit if you didn’t have public school choice, but Colorado is brimming with options, even out of district. I think it’s one case to fund students that have special needs that can be met by a very specialized private school and wealthy families wanted a kick back to fund a religious education. That’s not what tax dollars are for, but that’s my opinion. I HATE that children are caught up in this mess, just like you. DougCo School Board is to blame for putting families in this position.

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