For the third night in a row Thursday, Douglas County school district leaders proposing a first-of-its-kind voucher plan sketched out an outline and then sat down to face questions from an audience hungry for details.
A row of administrators passed a microphone back and forth as they responded to audience queries – copied onto index cards, placed in folders labeled by subject and then read aloud.
Supporters of the proposal asked whether private schools receiving vouchers would be held to higher standards than public schools; opponents questioned whether the district will use scarce tax dollars to defend itself from potential lawsuits.
“The natural feeling is to be concerned,” said Dougco school board member Justin Williams, one of four board members who attended but did not address the audience. “It’s … a very different program than we’ve had before.”
About 150 people attended the meeting at Castle Rock Middle School, an audience similar in size to that appearing Tuesday and Wednesday in other parts of the affluent suburban county. Board members, who directed administrators in December to explore a voucher proposal, could vote as early as next month on the plan.
“I believe they will vote 7-0” in favor, said Cindy Barnard, a Dougco parent who helped launch Taxpayers for Public Education, which is fighting the proposal. “I hope I’m wrong.”
Barnard represented the opponents in a brief presentation to the audience, followed by remarks from Great Choice Douglas County, a group supporting the plan. The two groups have set up websites and Facebook pages, started petition drives and created fliers, which they passed out Thursday.
“We ask our students to think outside the box, I think we should think outside the box too,” said Pam Mazanec, who supports the plan.
Scroll down to see videos of the voucher Q & A and pro/con presentations.
Details of Douglas County’s voucher proposal
Who could participate
- Students who are currently enrolled in Douglas County public schools and who live in the district.
- In the proposed pilot for 2011-12, up to 500 students may participate.
How the money would flow
- 75 percent of per-pupil funding would follow the student to a participating private school – based on an expected per-pupil amount of $6,100, that’s $4,575 per student.
- The remaining 25 percent – an estimated $1,525 – would stay with the district.
- The district would write checks to the parents of participating students and those parents would sign them over to the private schools they’ve chosen.
- If 500 students participate, at $6,100 per student, that’s a total of $3.05 million – with $2.28 million going to private schools and $762,500 staying with the district.
How private schools could participate
- Schools must be located within Douglas County or within an approximate 10-mile radius – an estimated 40 private schools are eligible. Kindergarten programs are not included in the pilot.
- Schools would not be required to change their admissions criteria to participate but they would not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of disability.
- Schools must agree to provide attendance data and qualifications of teaching staff to the district. They also must administer state exams for their voucher students.
- Schools must be willing to provide the option of a waiver to voucher students for the religious portion of their program.
How the district would use the money
- Of the $762,500 possible in the pilot year for the district, $361,199 would be set aside for administrative overhead such as providing staff to monitor attendance and state testing of voucher students.
- The remaining $401,301 would be set aside for “extenuating circumstances,” including assisting a district school adversely impacted by the voucher pilot.