President Bush's plan to open the door to public vouchers for private school tuition drew support yesterday from local private school educators, but opposition from the public sector.
Sister Janet Doyle, superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, said Mr. Bush's proposal is “a good start.”
“It gives parents a choice. We offer all that's needed - certified teachers, quality, involved parents. We have everything but the money,” Sister Janet said. “We have parents who have very little income trying to come up with that $1,200 for tuition.”
But David Welch, vice president of the Toledo board of education, said taxpayer funds should be restricted to the public schools.
“It's a poor idea. The President is giving up on public education,” Mr. Welch said. “Rather than bail out a few of these kids, let's help them all. We need to focus on improving all of those public schools, and vouchers is not the way.”
Under President Bush's education plan, the federal government would offer $1,500 vouchers to the parents of students in public schools that are deemed failures for three years in a row. That money would help parents pay to send their children to private schools, including religious schools.
Federal funds make up only a fraction of school districts' funding. In Toledo, only about $1 million in a budget of $272 million this year comes directly from the federal government.
Lester Schultz, superintendent of Sylvania schools, said he would not welcome a federal initiative to identify failing schools and then offer vouchers, even though he predicted that Sylvania would perform well under federal testing.
“I am not enamored of federal government involvement in local schools,” Mr. Schultz said.
The Rev. Martin Donnelly, pastor of St. Martin de Porres in central Toledo, said his school needs the help.
“We are definitely serving the public,” Father Donnelly said. “Our teachers are earning less than two-thirds of what their counterparts are making. That can't go on.”
But he said he doesn't want vouchers to come at the expense of public education. “There has to be a win-win,” he said.
Randy Taylor, the superintendent of Toledo Christian Schools, also welcomed the first national effort to provide tax support to parents paying private school tuition. He said the plan would guarantee choice, and keep private schools free of government control, if the vouchers are provided to parents, not directly to schools.
“Being in private education, Christian education, I feel the money first and foremost is paid by the taxpayers for the benefit of our children, so a step toward allowing someone to have a choice to me is a step in the right direction,” Mr. Taylor said.
Richard LaValley, Jr., chairman of the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund, which has raised $1 million to endow private school scholarships, said offering vouchers to low-income families is appropriate.
“Many of the private schools are doing mission work by providing education in areas that aren't very affluent,” Mr. LaValley said.
Tuition in religious private elementary schools in northwest Ohio ranges from below $1,000 to $3,000 or more. High schools cost more, including $4,248 at Toledo Christian and $5,270 at St. John's Jesuit High School.
Thomas Baker, the superintendent of the Lucas County educational service center, which oversees 11 charter schools in the area as alternatives to traditional public schools, said vouchers divert public money from public schools.
“From my perspective, vouchers is not choice. I think we should take the same amount of money and put it back in public schools and try to make them better,” Mr. Baker said.
Phineas Anderson, head of Maumee Valley Country Day School, said vouchers by themselves are not a solution to the problems of public education. He said there should be more public investment in solving societal problems that trouble schools.
“The idea of cutting off federal funds after three years, I'm not sure that's the way to go,” Mr. Anderson said. “That's a bit tough.”
Rick Beck, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said the voucher logic is “appealing,” but “dangerous.”
“It diverts attention from the reform needed in the public schools,” Mr. Beck said.