Monday, December 6, 2010

Final Assignment – Answering the Voucher Question

When our nation asks, “how are the children?” the resounding answer in the education climate today is, “the children are not well, the schools are not well.” Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the successful charter program, the Kipp Schools, urged Denver business and community members to reflect on the state of the nation’s children at a breakfast last month.

Following the education documentary “Waiting for Superman,” the Kipp schools have been lauded for the achievement rates of their lower-income, minority students. Their recipe for success?

Feinberg argues that the education conversation should gather around three pillars, the same that have made his schools a success – more time on task for both students and teachers, giving school administration more autonomy and power to lead, and finally, choice.

The school leader argues that the government is holding a monopoly on education by attending primarily to public schools, some that are failing the needs of students. In any monopoly, says Feinberg, the cost for the product increases as the value decreases. He says that American education will only get better when schools have to start competing for the attention of parents and students.

Though Feinberg did not mention them, other advocates of school choice are pushing for vouchers, which would give parents government money to send their children to private schools. Some argue that such programs are detriments to the improvement of the public school system. Others say they are only fair.

Darcie Ullmann, who sits on the parents’ board at St. Mary Catholic School in Greeley, Colorado agrees with Feinberg that choice is vital in educating the next generation. She would like to see a state voucher program that would give tax refunds to parents who choose not to enroll their children in public school. “We should be able to send our kids to the schools we want them to attend. I pay property tax that goes to schools my children don’t. I should be able to use the money that the government collects from me to educate my kids.”

Douglas County School District is in the initial phase of implementing a full-fledged voucher program, but one that would still grant some district control over the funds dolled out. Douglas Country schools are some of the best in the state. Ullmann argues that such programs are needed in more struggling districts.

“The public schools in Greeley are having a tough time. Vouchers can enable poorer families to send their kids to private schools and get a better education than public schools are offering.”

As reported in the Denver Post, other parents are not as gung-ho about vouchers. Cindy Bernard, a Douglas County parent is firmly opposed to giving government funds to private school families. "This scares the hell out of me. Mixing public funds for private schools, in my opinion, is wrong."