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November 20, 2010

A School Board Thinks Differently About Delivering Education, and spends less

Stephanie Simon

The school board in a wealthy suburban county south of Denver is considering letting parents use public funds to send their children to private schools--or take classes with private teachers--in a bid to rethink public education.

The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education, and also raise questions about whether the district can afford to lose any public funds to private educators.

Already hit hard by state cutbacks, the local board has cut $90 million from the budget over three years, leaving some principals pleading for family donations to buy math workbooks and copy paper.

"This is novel and interesting--and bound to be controversial," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, educational think tank in Washington, D.C.


Douglas County School District board members are also considering letting students enrolled in public schools opt out of some classes in favor of district-approved alternatives offered at for-profit schools or by private-sector instructors. Students might skip high-school Spanish, for example, to take an advanced seminar in Chinese, or bypass physics to study with a rocket scientist, in person or online.

Another proposal under review calls for expanding publicly-funded services for families that home-school their children.

Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen said she is not sure which proposals she might support. But in a recent letter to parents of the district's 56,000 students, she said her leadership team "did not find the ideas alarming" and pledged the district would "set the stage for new thinking in education."

"These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks," said board member Meghann Silverthorn. "Parents expect the same out of their educational system."

Related: The ongoing struggle for credit for non Madison School District courses.

Colorado's Douglas County School District spends $8512.74 per student ($476,977,336 for 56,031 students in 2009). Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009, a whopping $6,728.26, 79% more than the "wealthy Denver suburbs".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at November 20, 2010 7:20 AM
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