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Colorado School Voucher Proposal Could Be Ultimate in School Choice

October 1, 1992

DENVER (AP) _ A school voucher initiative on next month’s statewide ballot may offer the ultimate educational choice: using tax dollars to pay part of the tuition for any public, private or religious school, and even home-schooling.

The latter two provisions push the Colorado plan beyond others elsewhere in the nation, said Tom Tancredo, regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education.

″The Colorado voucher is quite broad, quite expansive,″ he said.

If the Nov. 3 measure passes, parents would receive a voucher from the state worth half the cost of a public education per child, ages 5 to 21. If in effect today, the annual voucher would be worth an average of $2,100.

The other half of the cost would be paid for out of public funds, such as property tax revenues, if the child were sent to public school, said Ron Pierce, chairman of Coloradans For School Choice, which sponsored the initiative.

Parents also could use the voucher to offset private school tuition, which in Colorado averages $3,500 for a year of high school.

Home-schoolers could use the money for materials and related education costs.

Supporters say the system would give parents a choice and force schools to improve or face closure. Financing and administrative fears would be allayed by lawmakers who would put the system in place, they say.

Opponents, including educators and Gov. Roy Romer, say the plan would be expensive and would jeopardize inner-city schools. They also are concerned about using tax dollars in private and religious schools.

The initiative has been introduced as the country grapples for solutions to education woes. Many Americans, including President Bush, favor a school voucher system to provide more choice and push public schools to improve.

In Wisconsin, one program spends tax dollars to give private schooling to up to 1,000 poor children in Milwaukee. The state Supreme Court ruled in March that such use of state funds was proper.

In California, a school-voucher measure set to go before voters in June 1994 would offer a $2,600 voucher for either public or private tuition.

Although one public opinion poll in early August indicated the Colorado initiative was favored by 48 percent of voters, with 39 percent opposed, pollster Floyd Ciruli of Ciruli & Associates in Denver said the issue’s outcome is far from clear.

’While it appears to be ahead, people still do not understand how it would work and what it might cost them,″ he said.

Opponents argue it isn’t the answer for Colorado.

″From a philosophical standpoint, the use of public funds for private or parochial schools is a bridge we just cannot cross,″ said Randy Quinn, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

″The initiative itself is more far-reaching than most people have assumed in terms of impact and cost.″

Quinn also warned that the system could permit exploitive profiteers to establish private schools.

Denver Public Schools superintendent Evie Dennis believes passage of the amendment could undo two decades of desegregation in the city’s schools.

″It would leave many of the minority kids in the inner city″ while causing the departure of students ″whose family and parents are capable of making those kinds of moves,″ Dennis said.

The Colorado Legislative Council estimated the initiative would cost about $84 million to engineer, based on student enrollment. Quinn’s estimate was closer to $200 million.

Colorado has about 590,000 public-school students and 44,500 private-school students.

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