Saturday, November 6, 2010

Voucher Debate in Colorado

After the movie Waiting for Superman premiered, I expected the "voucher debate" to resurface across the country. Obviously, the target for voucher programs has always been the schools and communities featured in Superman - poor and low performing areas. Strangely, in Colorado, the voucher program has reared its controversial head in the most unlikely of places - suburban Douglas county, one of the highest performing districts in the state and the sixth wealthiest county in the United States.

The push for "vouchers" in Douglas county is an extension of the issue of school choice that has been so prominent in Colorado. With open enrollment and an extensive charter school movement, Colorado has been a leader in school choice. In Douglas county, however, there is a small movement of reformers who are promoting reforms that will extend choice beyond the current status. The goal of this plan is to extend the "choice" to private, and predominantly religious - specifically Catholic in DC - schools.

Though a similar plan was shot down as unconstitutional in 2002 in Colorado because it violated local control, proponents of this new plan argue it will respect local control while still extending choice. It should be a fascinating debate - as the issue of "low performing schools" is not the issue. They literally want students and families to be able to spend their education dollars anywhere they want. The Denver Post has weighed in on its editorial pages, and columnist Vincent Carroll has commented as well, both arguing that it is at least worth the debate.

I've always felt that "whatever works" is the answer for any school reform. The issue is whether Douglas county seeks "reform" or just more freedom. And is that a problem?

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