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Public-School Choice Proposed in Minnesota

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Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado will support legislation to institute a limited statewide voucher program for students of both public and private schools, he announced in his state-of-the-state address this month.

The Governor's "Second Chance Program" would allow students who have failed in traditional educational settings to take a voucher equal to the state's per-pupil basic grant (approximately $2,000) to the school of their choice. Any public or private, nonsectarian, state-accredited school in Colorado would be allowed to "cash in" the voucher.

According to state education officials, Governor Lamm also has proposed a $1-billion fiscal 1986 budget for elementary and secondary education that will consume about 44 percent of the state's total budget.

According to Calvin M. Frazier, Colorado's commissioner of education, a high-school student could qualify for the program by meeting at least one of six criteria: have dropped out of school; have had extended, unexcused absences; be two or more years behind in basic skills; be a teen-age parent; be a drug or alcohol abuser; or have a history of delinquency or involvement with the courts.

"People who claim they can do better than the public schools with these troubled kids should have the chance to set up their own schools and try," the Governor said.

The Governor's proposal has met with "mixed" reactions, Mr. Frazier said. Although the commissioner himself is opposed to a general voucher program that would include all students and all schools, he called the Second Chance Program "intriguing."

"If there is any way to recapture students that the public schools have lost, we ought to do it," he said.

Administrative Problems

Mr. Frazier admitted that the program poses some administrative problems. For example, under the Governor's proposal, any student could drop out of school, collect the $2,000, and enroll in a private or public school more to his or her liking, Mr. Frazier explained. Some mechanism to prevent such an occurrence would have to be built into the legislation, he said.

Another issue is the amount of additional funding that would be required to provide transportation for all of the students in the program, Mr. Frazier said. If all the students eligible participated in the program, he noted, the cost would become quite high. In 1983, about 20 percent of high-school students in Colorado did not graduate.

'Pilot Voucher'

The fact that the title "Pilot Voucher" has been attached to the program also is working against the proposal, Mr. Frazier said. "It's an unfortunate attitude," he commented. "I have to look at this and say, 'If it's a good idea, let's see if we can make it work."'

But according to Sen. Al Meiklejohn, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, the proposal outlined by Governor Lamm is a voucher program and that is what it should be called.

"Generally, I'm a little negative on voucher programs," he said, as are other members of the legislature. Their main objection to voucher plans, Senator Meiklejohn said, is that they probably are unconstitutional under state law. The Colorado constitution prohibits the use of public funds to aid religious schools.

According to Gordon Heaton,6president of the Colorado Education Association, the teachers' organization has not yet taken a specific stand on the program.

nea Response

The group did, however, strongly oppose a voucher initiative that was floated last spring by Hugh Fowler, a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents and a former state senator. The initiative failed when proponents failed to gather the required 47,000 signatures that would have gotten it on the ballot last fall.

The cea is scheduled to meet this week, Mr. Heaton said, "and I think it's safe to say that we'll work against [the program]."

Voucher opponents are concerned, he said, that the initiative would act as a "foot in the door," leading the way to a general voucher program that would include all students and all public and private schools.

In an interview last week, Mr. Fowler said that is precisely what he hopes would happen with such a program. Voucher proponents will work this legislative session to amend the second-chance legislation so that it will also include exceptional students and high achievers, Mr. Fowler said.

Other Education Proposals

The Second Chance Program was only one of a number of proposals related to education that Governor Lamm outlined before lawmakers.

Calling for a fiscal 1986 schools budget up $1 million from fiscal 1985, the Governor also recommended that the legislature institute:

A pilot career-ladder program.

A staff-development institute to train school administrators in developing and evaluating teacher performance.

A temporary teaching certificate to ease teacher shortages.

A Colorado Teacher Corps to serve high-needs schools and to provide scholarships to high-ability students willing to teach in those schools.

Evaluative testing of students throughout their school careers.

Special programs and summer institutes for exceptional students.

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