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Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools

The Republic | azcentral.comMon Jan 13, 2014 11:27 AM

A Gilbert Public Schools board member is hoping to implement a voucher program modeled after a controversial system in a public district in Colorado that has resulted in lawsuits.

Board President Staci Burk recently traveled to Colorado to meet with Douglas County School District board members to learn how the board set up its voucher system.

The Douglas County voucher program, the first in Colorado, has faced legal battles since its inception in 2011. The program allowed parents to use 75 percent of the district’s per-pupil state funding to send their children to a private school, including religious institutions.

The ACLU sued the district, saying it violated the state Constitution by using public funds to send children to religious schools. The district won the case before a state appeals court, but the ACLU has asked the Colorado State Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

The program was touted as a financial boon, with the district keeping 25 percent of the per-pupil funding for the students who left for private schools. The program initially had around 300 of the 500 maximum students wanting to participate.

If the Gilbert district were to set up a similar program, it would be the first of its kind in Arizona.

Burk anticipates the board will have a work study in April to discuss setting up the voucher program for as early as next school year.

Burk hopes that establishing a similar program would help bring revenue to the financially-challenged district, which lost an override in the November election.

“(The Douglas County School District) didn’t have a mass exodus of kids leaving the schools, yet it brought $500,000 in revenue to them,” Burk said. “So, they had half a million dollars to increase teacher’s salaries and provide for the kids that were in the district.”

Whether a school board is legally able to implement a voucher program is up for debate.

Chris Thomas, general counsel with the Arizona School Boards Association, said establishing such a program would be outside the purview of a school board.

“School boards only have power that’s been given to them by the Legislature,” Thomas said. “I don’t see any statutory authority that gives a governing board power to institute a voucher program.”

John Huppenthal, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, believes that setting up such a program would be constitutional. Huppenthal, who has a history of promoting school choice and charter schools, would support GPS implementing a voucher system.

“The precedent exists right within the operations of school districts themselves,” Huppenthal said. “School districts have contracted out for special-needs kids, contracted out for alternative educational programs ... this is parallel.”

Dianne Drazinski, president of Gilbert Education Association, said the teachers organization would oppose a voucher system.

“Why would we want to give incentive for students to leave?” Drazinski said. “We’re already arguing for more funding. Why would you want to get rid of students and get rid of funding?”

The amount of money the district would gain from a voucher program would depend on how many students participated. Burk estimated the district could reap $400,000.

Drazinski and Thomas said their organizations oppose diverting public funds to private schools.

“This money would be going to private schools, so what we’re doing now is essentially supporting private schools,” Drazinski said.

Burk said the program would essentially be a local version of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account..

That program awards state funds for certain situations, such as special needs, to parents to send their children to a private school.

“It would be an ESA,” Burk said. “The difference is the state is doing it under the state budget. This would be shifting that to the local level where the governing board could essentially implement the empowerment account.”

Like the Douglas County program, the state’s program has faced legal challenges as well. The Arizona School Boards Association, the Arizona Education Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials in 2011 sued the state, saying the ESA program was unconstitutional because it gave money to religious schools. A new lawsuit is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Burk said that under GPS’ potential school-choice program, parents would be able to send their children to religious schools.

Thomas said ASBA was not planning “at this time” to take legal action if the district moves forward with a voucher program.

“At the same time, who knows down the road,” Thomas said.

http://www.azcentral.com/community/gilbert/articles/20140113colo-vo...

Views: 166

Replies to This Discussion

Ms. Drazinski, if your school district and others would do their jobs, parents would keep their children in public schools. The rest of us call this the Free Market.

YES! It is the Drazinski's of the world that send parents screaming into the night

Peggy McClain said:

Ms. Drazinski, if your school district and others would do their jobs, parents would keep their children in public schools. The rest of us call this the Free Market.

What a "Great" school board, Gilbert is one lucky district.  Nothing like stirring the "snake's nest"  (ACLU) and other nests of the kind.  It will be interesting to see the "venom" coming from them, remember there is an antidote, constitution, and the power of "WE-THE-PEOPLE."

No luck - just hard work and dedication - and divine providence

karen gevaert said:

What a "Great" school board, Gilbert is one lucky district.  Nothing like stirring the "snake's nest"  (ACLU) and other nests of the kind.  It will be interesting to see the "venom" coming from them, remember there is an antidote, constitution, and the power of "WE-THE-PEOPLE."

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