05 November 2010

A New Welfare Program For Wealthy Suburbanites?

Douglas County, Colorado, which has second ring suburbs of Denver and Colorado Springs, is one of the most intensely Republican and one of the most affluent counties in Colorado. Tea Party candidates and Republicans did well there.

Republican Ken Buck bested Democrat Michael Bennet 68,507 to 40,123 in the U.S. Senate race in Douglas County. Republican Mike Coffman bested Democrat John Flerlage in the 6th Congressional District race in the county by 78,800 to 28,907. In the Colorado Governor's race 55,061 people in Douglas County backed American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancerdo, 12,530 backed Republican Dan Maes, and 45,947 backed Democrat John Hickenlooper. Down ticket state races favored Republicans over Democrats by roughly 2-1 margins, and they elected Republicans by similar margins in a state senate race and two contested state representative races (one state representative race had an uncontested Republican) and in every race for elected county office. Judicial retention election outcomes for the three Colorado Supreme Court justices targeted by "Clear the Bench" were just barely over 50% in favor of retaining the judges. Douglas County strongly favored Anti-Health Care Reform Amendment 63, which they backed 60,920 to 48,244.

The Douglas County School Board was elected with a slate of candidates organized by the local Republican party last year to oppose a teacher's union backed slate of candidates.

These are the people who have been arguing loudly for less government spending, and less government involvement in health care. They have strongly supported TABOR.

So, it comes as something of a surprise to see that two days after the 2010 election, the Douglas County School Board is proposing to create new entitlement program for county residents who send their children to private schools (99.3% religious) using state funds.

The Douglas County School District is examining starting a voucher program to give students state money to attend private or religious schools.

The school board this summer hired a Colorado Springs lawyer to develop a plan for a voucher system that would give parents 75 percent of state per-pupil funds to attend "nonpublic schools," which could include religious schools.

No other Colorado school district has a voucher program.

Right now, parents who want to send their children to private schools in Colorado have to do so with their own funds. Some school districts have relatively autonomous "charter schools" but those are still public schools.

The district paid Eric Hall, a Colorado Springs lawyer who was involved in the creation of the 2003 statewide voucher program, $8,165 to develop a draft voucher plan. The district also paid Hall a $5,000 retainer. . . . The district would create an office to administer the program, beginning in the 2011-12 school year.

Under the plan, any student who decided to attend a Douglas County private school would take with them 75 percent of the per-pupil funding the district receives from the state. The district receives $6,545 per student.

Private-school students using the vouchers would have to take statewide assessments or equivalent tests, and schools would have to track student academic growth.

The program would give 35 percent of per-pupil funding to students in kindergarten. Districts receive only partial funding for kindergarten.

Thus, this would program would hand $4,909 per student to almost every student attending the following schools in grades 1-12 (I exclude kindergarten and pre-K numbers from each school), and possibly some that I've missed (although the U.S. Department of Education identified only six private schools with post-kindergarten instruction).

1. Englewood, Jim Elliot Schools, 119 students, grades 6-12 ("Emphasizing a servant's heart and a missions mind, we are a different kind of Christian school." Non-denominational) Tuition $6,795, 4% receive financial aid on average $950.
2. Parker, Lutheran High School Rockies (Missouri Synod), 139 students, grades 9-12
3. Franktown, Brookstone Christian Academy, 19 students, grades 1-8
4. Franktown, Castlewood Christian School, 37 students, 1-9 ("Kindergarten-8th grade tuition is $325 for non Adventist members and $300 for SDA member." This may be per month.)
5. Franktown, Trinity Lutheran School (Missouri Synod), 72 students, 1-8
6. Highlands Ranch, Cherry Hills Christian School, 630 students, 1-8 (Tuition is "1-5: $6534 per year 6-8: $7369 per year")
7. Highlands Ranch, Highlands Ranch Christian School, 250 students, 1-8
8. Parker, Ave Maria Catholic School, 323 students, 1-8 Tuition is $4,995, 7% receive financial aid, on average $1,000.
9. Parker, Parker Montessori Educational Institute, 13 students, grades 1-3
10. Parker, Southeast Christian School, 219 students, 1-8

In all, there are 1,821 students in those schools in grades 1-8 now, with no state subsidy, and it is fair to assume there won't be significantly more in the near term with a voucher program, since schools can't easily expand in response to a possibly temporary government subsidy. Of those students, 99.3% are religious schools (all but 13 of those students).

The impact of the kindergarten voucher is harder to evaluate because there are far more private kindergarten programs and because the amount of the voucher isn't entirely clear.

Thus, Douglas County basically makes to draw an additional $8.9 million dollars and more of money from limited state level education funds beyond what it receives now for its public schools, in order to help affluent suburbanites in a county known for the quality of its public school system (it is "one of Colorado's wealthiest and highest performing" districts) who already attend religious private schools get a government entitlement. Only 8.37% of its 58,407 students receive free or reduced lunches (less than any school district in the state but Aspen, where the percentage is 6%), and it is fair to guess that few of those students would be attending private schools even with a voucher to pay part of the tuition cost.

Apparently, a government takeover of private education is not nearly so problematic as similar tax subsidies under President Obama's health care reform plan to help people purchase private health insurance (which, in a nutshell, is what "Obamacare" amounts to for the average person).

Meanwhile, non-private schools aren't doing so well in the county:

The Douglas County School District cut $36 million out of its budget for this school year, eliminating 264 jobs, 168 of which were teaching positions. The district also began charging students to take the bus and increased other fees.


Maju said...

This is the kind of stuff that has been going in Spain for two decades or so already and is a scam to taxpayers: the Catholic Church specially gets paid by the state instead of being the state the one providing directly for secular and civic education.

The new Capitalism essentially seems to consist in taxing the public to pay private companies. And that is defended by the same ones who are against "big state" and "nanny state"... except when it's about subsidizing the rich and powerful with the taxes of all.

It's absolutely decadent: the cusp of degeneration of both private and public sectors, an abominable hubris. Instead of getting the state redistribute a bit from the rich to the poor, it becomes a means of even greater robbery of the poor by the rich and powerful.

This is the kind of "pull" element that would eventually get the denizens of the West in the position of welcoming even slightly less unjust invaders, if these happen to have any "push" at all (not right now certainly).

Not that I think that's going to happen but that's how it works historically, that's how civilizations decay: by feeding corruption instead of justice.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Canada has publicly funded religious schools as well.