District welcomes voucher decision


Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 10:26 p.m.
In its ruling against Opportunity Scholarships Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court eliminated a state program that has vexed Alachua County school officials while having little actual impact in the county.
The court struck down the program, which requires school districts to pay for students in failing public schools to attend private schools, in a 5-2 ruling. The majority ruled that voucher programs can't spend money on private schools that have different standards and guidelines.
It was something of a victory for the Alachua County School Board, which has asked legislators to eliminate the voucher program for years.
"We've been opposed to it on the philosophical grounds," said school Superintendent Dan Boyd. "The state is opposed to any kind of accountability for non-public schools, which is offensive."
Such programs hurt the district and can move students into private schools with little government oversight, said School Board Chairman Wes Eubank.
"Our approach has been more of a 'let's all be on the same level playing field,' " Eubank said. "If you're gong to hold us accountable, hold charter schools at least as accountable. And if you're going to let (students) go to private schools, hold them accountable."
The School Board's opposition comes even though Alachua County students have never been eligible for the vouchers because public schools in the district have never received a low enough ranking to qualify for the program. A school must receive an F in two consecutive years before its students are offered the vouchers.
One school, Duval Elementary, received an F several years ago but pulled up to a B the next year, Boyd said. Such a rating can spur a school to better itself, he said.
"The fact that a school is stigmatized by an F is powerful, extremely powerful," Boyd said. "People put their professional reputations, their careers, their energy into this and to be judged as failing is not pleasant."
Students who use other types of vouchers in the county will not be affected by the ruling. This includes the 122 students who attend private schools through the McKay Scholarship, which provides vouchers for students with disabilities.
About 115 students also have transferred to other public schools in the district over the past two years under a provision in the federal No Child Left Behind act. Under the law, students can choose to attend a different public school if the school they attend does not meet certain standards.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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