Local Schools Debate Voucher Program

School Desk
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Colorado has reached an educational milestone. On Wednesday, Governor Bill Owens signed a school voucher bill into law.

It provides vouchers for tax money to help parents pay to move their children from struggling public schools and place them in private or religious schools. This legislation is the first of its kind to pass since the U.S. Supreme Court okayed a similar plan. On average, that value of a voucher runs between $5,000 and $6,000. Parents can put that money toward tuition a participating private school of their choice

Schools will be notified by December 1st if they are included in the voucher program. Then parents will have one month to apply for a voucher for 2004. Right now, only students in D-2 and D-11 qualify.

A school district can be subject to the voucher program if eight or more of its schools rate "poorly" on the state's accountability reports. And only students in those schools may request a voucher for transfer. Students in higher-rated schools in a district are not eligible.

Another qualification: the voucher law only covers students who fail a subject on state CSAP assessment tests. "In a school of 300, only 4 % would qualify. Then they have to be low-income or eligible for free or reduced lunch," says D-11 Deputy Superintendent Dr. Diana Sirko.

Steve Shuck thinks the vouchers are a good idea. He says, despite the restrictions, it's still a big step in the right direction. "This will force public schools to compete to keep the meat in the seat," he says.

There are more than 30 private schools in Colorado Springs. The average tuition is $3,000. Vouchers would give qualifying students up to $6,000, so private schools see this as a boost for enrollment.

Opponents of the voucher program are threatening a lawsuit. Officials with the state teacher's union say the law is unconstitutional.