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Free-Market Schools: New Programs Give Alternatives to Public Schools

Thursday, May 10, 2001 at 3:17 PM

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Later today we'll be broadcasting live from the City Club of Cleveland for the third in a series of forums on education. Community and education leaders from the area will examine the alternatives to sending your kids to traditional public schools. While school vouchers, charter schools, and home schooling are offering new choices to parents, they're also stirring up plenty of controversy. 90.3's Renita Jablonski has more on school choice in northeastern Ohio.

Renita Jablonski- School choice isn’t really a new concept. If parents can afford it, they can choose to send their children to private school, or relocate to an area known for its high-quality public school system. In recent years, similar options are becoming available to more people thanks to programs like tuition vouchers and charter schools. Vouchers, which allow parents to use public education dollars to send their kids to private schools, have been the subject of much debate, especially at the federal level. Just last week, President Bush’s school voucher initiative was dropped in the Senate’s compromise of his proposed education bill. Richard Decolibus is the Head of the Cleveland Teachers Union and an opponent of vouchers.

Richard Decolibus- They indeed represent school choice. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what they represent because it’s the choice of that private school to accept the student or not, unlike the public schools. We welcome and we open our doors to everyone and we will take everyone whatever their problems.

RJ- Dave Zanotti is with the School Choice Committee, a pro-voucher organization. He says children DO get equal opportunities within the program.

Dave Zanotti- The Cleveland voucher experiment has proven that that is absolutely untrue, when in fact, the opposite is true, that the children most likely to change schools are ones who are troubled in their existing education experience.

RJ- Soon the U.S. Supreme Court will take a look at the Cleveland Scholarship Program to decide its constitutionality and what Decolibus says is its biggest flaw.

RD- We believe very clearly it’s a violation of separation of church and state and so far at least, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with us.

RJ- Again, Zanotti says that argument is ridiculous.

DZ- Wait a second, just because an institution happens to be religious in its context but its meeting the laws and requirements to educate these children, does that mean there can be no cooperation between the tax payers and that institution? Those kinds of radical walls of extreme separation don’t sit real well with our culture.

RJ- Meanwhile, Sedat Duman is dealing with a whole different set of issues. He’s Dean of Academics at Horizon Science Academy in Cleveland, a charter or community school in its second year of operation. Charter schools are independent public schools with their own governing authorities.

Sedat Duman- We just get paid for education only. Right now we have no gym so what are we going to do for gym classes? Who is going to build a gym place for us? Neither city nor board of education because they say they just gave the money for education purpose only, so at this point it’s really hard for us.

RJ- H.S.A. is facing the same problems many charter schools are experiencing - they’re not able to access grants and funding as easily as more established public or private schools. Ohio only passed legislation allowing for the creation of charter schools in 1997. Horizon’s curriculum is focused on college prep, specifically in the areas of science, math and technology. Duman says while Horizon is struggling to establish itself, it is providing students with a quality education.

SD- This school is doing good on standardize tests and the parental satisfaction.

RJ- Yet for some, school choice means not choosing any school at all. Joyce Begg is a mother of eight in Bedford and a full-time teacher. Begg has been home schooling her kids for more than ten years.

Joyce Begg- It’s a big decision. I think that you know your family, you know your children and you have convictions on which way you think is going to benefit your children and how you want them to spend their time during the day, what percentage of time you want them at home, what percentage of time you want them away from home and influenced by other people.

RJ- Critics of home schooling say keeping a child out of the school environment results in a lack of social integration, resulting in weak interpersonal skills that could create problems for the child later in life. Begg disagrees.

JB- I’m pleased with the outcome I’ve seen with my kids even though day to day sometimes it gets discouraging and there’s sometimes when I see the school bus go by and I think maybe I need to put them on the bus! But when I look back, I’m real thankful that we’re doing it. Now, my oldest son, we home schooled through ninth grade and then he finished the last three years at a christian high school and now he is in college and made the transition very well.

RJ- Whether it’s home schooling or experiments like the voucher program, it’s clear this is only the beginning of pushes towards significant educational reform. While some view such options as a threat to the traditional public school system, others say a more “free market” approach could help improve its quality.

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