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FOX 31 Fair and Balanced on Education? We Report, You Decide Part Two

Originally posted at Colorado Peak Politics. Re-posted here with permission.

By Ben DeGrow

I know the timing is impossible for it to be true, but you’d almost think my first School Cuts 101 response piece triggered some interest from the FOX 31 team with my cryptic closing:

Anyway, looking for real ideas for how to make education spending more productive and promote better outcomes for students? One good place to start is my chapter on K-12 for the Independence Institute’s Citizens’ Budget. Or check out what Colorado school districts like Douglas County and Falcon 49 are up to. More on that later… [emphasis added]

In hindsight, we’re probably just on the same wavelength. Or maybe it’s impossible for FOX 31 to ignore the groundbreaking educational changes emanating out of Douglas County. In any case, I’m pleased to see their coverage of the suburban school district’s Choice Scholarship Program, along with a great example of how the program expands options for parents.

For the most part, beautiful. Of course, being a news story, they rightfully reported the views of the opposition:

“I feel that the program will take money away from schools in a time when we desperately need money. We are cutting everything,” said Delana Maynes, with Taxpayers for Public Education. “You still have to pay teachers. You still have to turn on lights.”

Maynes may have missed the clear explanation of how the Choice Scholarship program will save the district money — $400,000 in Year 1 alone, not to mention the hard-to-calculate future savings from not having to construct as many schools and other facilities in the growing district. In the report Posey describes Maynes as “a Douglas County parent who does not believe taxpayer money should be going to private schools or religious schools….” Fair enough, as this meshes with a statement from the “Taxpayers for Public Schools” website:

Our taxes should not be used to pay private school tuition.

How troubling then would it be to learn, that according to Colorado Department of Education accountants, “Colorado public school agencies spent $7.9 million in 2008-09, and at least $6.9 million in 2009-10, on ‘tuition paid to private schools or non-approved agencies.'” Why not object to that? Because in those cases that money is directed by school districts, most likely to purchase special education services from private education providers.

Let’s not beat around the bush. What’s offensive to some is not only that parents choose, but also that some of those parents will choose religious schools. The famous 2002 Zelman ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar voucher program in Cleveland because it was “neutral with respect to religion and provides assistance directly to a broad class of citizens who, in turn, direct government aid to religious schools wholly as a result of their own genuine and independent private choice.” Of the 31 private schools that applied to be part of Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship program, 8 of them are non-religious.

Meanwhile, Douglas County’s Blueprint for School Choice includes a wide range of overlooked improvements — from more parent-friendly open enrollment policies to greater equity for charter schools and even to improved services for interested home education families. My Independence Institute colleague Pam Benigno and I were honored to serve on the district’s School Choice Task Force that helped to craft the policy reform ideas.

On the day when rising political star Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has signed into law “the nation’s largest voucher program,” it is noteworthy that the arguments against private school choice have dwindled. High-quality research repeatedly and consistently shows the effectiveness of vouchers and tax credits. Many new programs like Indiana’s are coming to existence in 2011, “A Year of Growth for School Choice,” and it’s exciting to see Colorado as part of the trend, thanks not to our state legislature but to the bold and visionary Douglas County Board of Education. Are any other Colorado school boards paying close attention here?