Gilbert School Board President Stacy Burk recently made a proposal sure to generate discussion. On a Facebook site, “Gilbert Schools Rabid Fringe,” she’s floating the following:
Gilbert Schools will provide vouchers to GPS students who want to attend any private school of their choice;
The district will give the students 75 percent of the state aid and keep the remaining 25 percent.
She apparently sees it as a win-win, with kids able to attend the schools of their choice and the district keeping some of the state aid.
I suspect her fellow conservatives on the board, Daryl Colvin and Julie Smith, will find the idea attractive.
The Douglas County schools in Colorado are attempting to implement what Burk suggests, but so far it has been tied up in courts, with one court ruling in favor of the plan and another saying it is unconstitutional. Now, it’s in the hands, possibly, of the Colorado Supreme Court.
The plan, unsurprisingly, is favored by the usual suspects: Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, the Koch brothers, all of whom have poured money into the issue. Parents, on the other hand, have lined up on both sides of the issue. Teachers are none too happy.
But it’s not unusual to see Gilbert’s conservatives mimic the idea, even though there is no evidence that voucher programs actually help, whether they’re in Washington, D.C., Ohio, or New Orleans, to name three hotspots of voucher plans. Still, conservatives hold on to the idea that vouchers will improve education.
But as a conservative, has Burk really thought this through? After all, she, Smith and Colvin campaigned as fiscal conservatives, guardians of our taxes. As such, they should consider how this plan might work. And ask some hard questions.
So will our board conservatives insist on accountability with this proposal? Will they demand academic accountability, that the GPS students attending private schools be required to take the same state tests public schools require? And if private schools’ results are dismal, will those schools be blocked from receiving funds?
And will there be fiscal accountability? Will our board conservatives insist on financial transparency from private schools receiving public funds? Will there be public audits of those private schools’ finances, as districts schools go through? If a private school won’t allow an audit, will that school be blocked from receiving funds?
As is, the state Auditor General only reports on school districts’ expenditures; you cannot find anything about charter schools’ behavior on that site, mainly because the state doesn’t have the Auditor General office examine charter schools. In fact, it’s difficult to learn if any agency actually oversees those schools’ spending. So will our conservatives on the Gilbert board insist on regular public audits of private schools accepting GPS funds?
Finally, will our board conservatives ensure private schools receiving GPS funds won’t discriminate? That is, will private schools that have entrance tests keeping some GPS students from enrolling while accepting others be blocked from accepting GPS funds?
If Burk and her fellow self-professed fiscal conservatives won’t answer “Yes” to all these questions, then their response suggests that they are not so much in favor of school choice as they are determined to privatize education. Which should make Gilbert parents wonder just what Burk and Co.’s agenda really is.
Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.