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Archive for Saturday, December 24, 2005

Voucher proposal appears unlikely to win endorsement

December 24, 2005

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— A proposal for a limited school voucher program appears unlikely to win the State Board of Education's endorsement when the board meets again in January.

Board member Ken Willard says the idea needs more study and that he isn't ready to support it.

Willard, a Republican from Hutchinson, is part of the board's 6-4 conservative majority. His stance means that, at best for voucher supporters, the board would split 5-5 on the issue and fail to forward the proposal to legislators for their consideration.

Willard told The Hutchinson News that he doubts the board will endorse the voucher proposal in time for lawmakers to consider it. The 2006 Legislature convenes Jan. 9 and will finish its annual session by early May.

"I think the idea needs a whole lot more discussion and a lot of questions asked and answered before it can go forward," Willard said Thursday, a day after he made a similar comment to McPherson's school board.

The proposal has upset some educators, and the board faced a hostile crowd that included many school superintendents when it reviewed the proposal earlier this month. The board postponed a vote until January.

The proposal was drafted by a task force that Education Commissioner Bob Corkins created, and he supports it. Like other supporters of school choice initiatives, Corkins argues that allowing more competition for public schools would better serve special groups of students and compel the schools to become more competitive.

But critics of the voucher program argue it will undercut public schools and question whether private schools will take children with special needs.

Under the latest proposals, parents of at-risk students would receive about $5,600 a year, and the home district would lose those dollars if a child was educated elsewhere. For special education students, the amount of the voucher would be based on the cost of special education services.

Willard said vouchers haven't been shown to be the answer to the state's education problems and that he wants to hear suggestions from educators on other ways to improve the state's education system.

"There's a host of ideas out there," Willard said. "To jump right now on this voucher proposal just hasn't been thought through at this time."

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