The Wall Street Journal's Stephanie Simon profiles a fascinating education experiment in a well-to-do Denver suburb.
The Douglas County School District has started a controversial voucher program. Advocates of the voucher system normally extol it as a way to help poor kids escape struggling public schools--but under the new program, Douglas County families (whose incomes are nearly twice the national median) can use vouchers to send their children to private schools, most of which are religious.
The school district passes 75 percent of the $6,100 per-pupil allotment they get from the state directly on to parents, telling them they can use that money to send their child to whichever school they wish. The district pockets the other 25 percent.
The plan has already prompted lawsuits from groups that defend the separation of church and state, Simon writes, though it's unclear if their challenge would win. The district says the vouchers are most popular with children who attend the county's wealthiest schools. That may be because the $4,500 voucher wouldn't come close to picking up the tab of most private-school tuition in the area, and thus wouldn't be an option for poor families.
Republican-led state legislatures have introduced a slew of bills to create voucher programs around the country. At least 30 such bills have been introduced this year, compared to just nine in 2010, the Associated Press reported. While education is one of the few issues that can still attract occasional bipartisan consensus in Congress, vouchers have remained divisive. Republicans champion them as a way to increase parent choice while Democrats argue they are ineffective and siphon money away from struggling public schools. Democrats in the Senate killed a Republican move to extend funding for a popular low-income voucher program in Washington D.C. two years ago.
You can read more about the ongoing voucher debate here.