To be a good Republican:
You have to believe that those privileged from birth achieve success all on their own.
You have to be against government interference in business, until your oil company, corporation or savings and loan is about to go broke and you beg for a government bailout.
You have to believe a poor, minority student with a disciplinary history and failing grades will be admitted into an elite private school with a $1,000 voucher.
Speaking of school vouchers, since Colorado voters have already overwhelmingly rejected the concept -- most recently just two years ago -- we the press and you the marketing-savvy consumer are not supposed to call them vouchers anymore.
Instead we're supposed to use the new catch-phrase: school choice. There are many different forms of vouchers, but by all other names they're essentially the same: The concept allows parents to use tax dollars to help send their kids to public or private schools. Supporters claim that vouchers will improve education by forcing competition; opponents argue they may help middle-class parents send their kids to private schools, but will do little to salvage public education for children of the poor and working class.
This week, a federal appeals court declared Cleveland's voucher program unconstitutional because it used public money to send students to religious schools, a violation of separation of church and state.
Coincidentally, local developer and onetime Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Schuck also this week announced plans to personally pay the tuition for poor students who currently attend one of the city's lowest-achieving schools to attend private school. Schuck, who headed the failed 1998 statewide voucher amendment, is perhaps Colorado's most dogged and impassioned supporter of vouchers.
Coincidentally, Schuck's generous offer was announced in a front-page article in the daily newspaper, which historically opposes the entire concept of public schools in its editorial pages. The newspaper's founder, Harry Hoiles, actually prohibited his newspaper from using the term "public schools," insisting on the term "government-subsidized schools."
Coincidentally, the Gazette article didn't mention that Schuck, along with Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation CEO Rocky Scott, were that same day sponsoring a free lunch at the Hillside Community Center. On Tuesday, "community leaders interested in public education" were invited to come hear a discussion about vouchers, er, school choice.
The invitation, which was faxed late last week from EDC headquarters, characterized one featured guest, Milwaukee school board member John Gardner, as "a union organizer by profession," a credential that would normally get him thrown out of town after being properly tarred and feathered.
However, Gardner is also the Bronx-accented, blue-collar pal of Schuck who speaks eloquently about the school voucher program he helped push through in Milwaukee. Schuck initially brought him to Colorado earlier this year.
Gardner's passion and Schuck's devotion to education reform are raw and focused. We're a little bit perplexed by Scott's new role, however, given that the EDC chair just helped District 11 get their school bond issue passed. Is it possible to serve two masters?
Some people just don't like the idea of vouchers. Never have, and no matter how this present is wrapped and delivered, never will,
Jerome Page, president of the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region, says he opted out of Scott and Schuck's free lunch program this week.
"I am adamantly and dramatically opposed to vouchers and I really think it's a conspiracy, so why go to a meeting where they're trying to woo people into supporting vouchers?" Page asked. "I can't get away from the feeling that this is some sort of national conservative agenda to dismantle and destroy public schools with the concept that private industry can do a better job of teaching."
Strong words from the generally mild-mannered Page. And he's not finished.
"I know there are several strong supporters of vouchers in this community and they are naive at best. I get perturbed by black community leaders who say, 'We are just exploring and looking at alternatives that are being presented.' Well, the alternative is to roll up your sleeves and get to work to fix the system already in place."
Besides, Page noted, Colorado's students already have choice in education: They can attend any public school in the state, as long as there is space available.
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