School voucher critics cite lack of accountability
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 06, 2011
11/06/11 at 5:14 AM
Public schools must account for every dime of state and federal funding they spend to educate students.
But what about public funds that are being channeled to private schools under the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act?
That question has been raised amid public debate over the constitutionality of the year-old law that allows public school funding to pay private school tuition for special-needs students.
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, co-sponsor of the law, says private schools are accountable only to parents.
The whole point of school choice, he said, is giving parents control over their child's education.
"You're on your own now," Nelson said. "You're making the decision. So if you're not happy, go to another school."
But public schools are constrained by requirements to follow the law and account for all public funds.
It is a time-honored protection for the public taxpayer, a form of checks and balances, voucher opponents say.
"How can we be giving public money to schools that can discriminate based on race, religion, disability?" said Donna Campo, superintendent of Liberty Public Schools.
"They don't have to take a multihandicapped kid. If they can't serve them, they don't have to take them. Public schools do."
The debate is one sweeping the country as more states implement voucher programs.
"Not all public schools in Oklahoma are failing. In fact, most are succeeding," said Jennifer Hudspeth, a member of the Tulsa Area Parents Legislative Action Committee.
"And all can improve if permitted, that is if not handcuffed by an ever-increasing amount of unfunded mandates - mandates not fully shared by charter or private schools."
She said legislators' time would better be spent focusing on successes in the state's public education system and building on those.
"There is no accountability for those with these scholarships. There's no guarantee that services for special education students will be provided," said Union Superintendent Cathy Burden.
Many parents don't understand they are giving up federal protections when they move their children to private schools, she said.
"If this stays on the books, those students will lose their protection for due process, for a free and appropriate public education, for periodic testing, for special programs and auxiliary services and all those things that have been required to make their education the same and give them the same opportunity as children in a regular environment," Burden said.
Original Print Headline: Voucher critics cite lack of
Kim Archer 918-581-8315