Vouchers ruling costly for Tempe school - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Vouchers ruling costly for Tempe school

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Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 9:34 pm | Updated: 2:54 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

When 7-year-old Lexie Weck gets to school each morning, she puts her book bag away, heads outside to the playground with other students for about 15 minutes and gets ready for a full day of studies.

Her mother once couldn't imagine all this for Lexie, who is autistic. But a state voucher program allowed her two years ago to send Lexie to Chrysalis Academy in Tempe, which specializes in helping developmentally disabled children.

"She didn't want to communicate with anyone and preferred to be alone," Andrea Weck said. "Now she wants to read, she wants to color, she wants to play with her sister. It's incredible."

On Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the state's school voucher program, which will end the Pupils With Disabilities Scholarship that helped Lexie attend private school.

That leaves Weck, a single mother of three, with a decision: send Lexie to public school after the end of this school year or pay $25,000 each year in tuition to keep her at Chrysalis Academy.

"I'm looking everywhere I can to find a way to pay for this," she said. "I'm just nervous that she will go back to public school and regress. It's something that just can't happen."

The program, which was found to be unconstitutional, provides tuition to private schools for nearly 500 students across the state, including 12 of the 31 students who attend Chrysalis Academy.

Public schools can't provide the attention children get at Chrysalis Academy, where the student-teacher ratio is 2-1, said Tara Rice, a behavioral therapist and co-owner of the school.

Rice said Lexie Weck is an example of how successful extra attention can be.

"When she came here she couldn't communicate and had no group skills," she said. "Now she is learning and using sign language to communicate, and we expect that soon she will start to speak."

Virgil Cain, a foster parent who brought the suit, Cain v. Horne, said he was satisfied with Wednesday's ruling.

"Vouchers are just another way to undermine public education," he said. "If people want to send their kids to private or parochial schools, let them pay for it."

Don Peters, an attorney who represented Cain and the Arizona School Boards Association in the lawsuit, said the court made the right ruling.

"Nobody wants to see kids pulled out of schools, but next year they are either going to have to pay for private school themselves or attend a public school," Peters said.

Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, said the ruling was disappointing.

"I worked hard to make that program work," Horne said. "I know a lot of the parents and feel that they know best when it comes to where their children should go to school."

Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter and an advocate for the voucher programs, said he is going to explore possible options to reverse the decision.

"The care a lot of these public schools provide is little more than a baby sitter service," he said. "We are certainly going to explore our options."

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