DougCo Parents Clamor For Private School Vouchers

To Qualify Student Must Be With Douglas County Schools For One Year

Now that Douglas County Schools have approved a plan to let students use public funds to pay for private school tuition, the phone are ringing off the hook with parents wanting first dibs, a school spokeswoman said.

Most of the callers, though, were parents with children already in private school, who are not eligible for the program. Students are required to have been with the school district for one year to qualify.

On Tuesday night, the all-Republican school board became the first in the state to approve a voucher program that would give up to 500 students $4,500 for private school tuition.

"We're not afraid of competition in Douglas County," said John Carson, the Douglas County School Board President.

But on Wednesday, the Anti-Defamation League said all but one of the county's private schools are religious.

"We believe that it's absolutely wrong for a state to be enabling people to obtain a religious-based education using tax dollars," said Scott Levin with the Anti-Defamation League.

Opponents said those tax dollars are already in short supply; the district is facing $25 million in budget cuts.

"You take one dollar out of public education and that dollar hurts," said Cindy Barnard, a parent and spokeswoman for Taxpayers for Public Education.

Barnard said the impact is just beginning.

"Republicans and Democrats alike have said 'I don't want my tax dollars going to private education, and I will never vote for another bond or mill as long as this board is sitting on Douglas County Schools,'" she said.

The ACLU said it is looking into the possibility of a lawsuit.

School officials have repeatedly said the voucher plan will save the district money because it will retain some of the state's per pupil funding.

They argue the program will give parents more choice, while holding private schools accountable.

"Those partner private schools submit to us their attendance data and their achievement results. We're not saying goodbye to these students. These students are actually staying with the district," said Susan Meek, a Douglas County Schools spokeswoman.

Meek said the next step is to work with area private schools to determine which ones will take part in the program.

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