The Board of Education in Douglas County, Colorado has instituted a landmark school choice program. This article from their local NBC affiliate announces the passage of the program, which is the first of its kind in the United States.
What makes this program so strong is that it is open to all who wish to participate, with no eligibility restrictions on student ability or income. The maximum dollar amount of the “education scholarships” is $4,575, or 75% of the district’s per pupil revenue. The remaining 25% goes toward administering the program and additional revenue for the district.
This is a major victory for advocates of school choice. Douglas County has 61,000 students, making it the largest school district in Colorado. If such a substantial district can successfully administer a voucher program, it will show other education leaders that similar programs should be instituted in their areas. Here in Texas, where we are facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, particularly in education funding, options like the Douglas County voucher program should definitely be on the table. It is the right fiscal move, and more importantly, the right move in regards to giving parents the right to choose the best education for their children.
There are some choice options in Texas. We have charter and virtual school systems, and tax credits may be around the corner. This is not to say we could not be doing a great deal more. Currently, there is a hard cap of 215 charter schools in Texas. That needs to go. Virtual education is over-regulated at the state level. Those restrictions should be loosened so school districts and private providers have the greatest possible ability to provide virtual options for their students. Voucher programs like the one in Douglas County are something we do not have at all. As school finance and education mandates are re-worked through this legislative session, we should be focused on constructing an environment that is conducive to allowing our school districts to make similarly bold moves when it comes to school choice.