Empowering parents with vouchers

April 6, 2019

 

 

 

The Guam Department of Education spends $11,000 per student in a regular public school and $6,100 per student enrolled in a charter pubic school — showing a difference of just over $5,000 — based on the fiscal-year budget request for 2019.

 

“The amount is real,” Francis Santos of iLearn Academy Charter School told the legislative committee on appropriations. “It is an absolutely real number. They get more money than we do. Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘What’s the difference between a GDOE public school student and a charter school public school student?’”

 

Guam has three charters schools— iLearn Academy Charter School, Guahan Academy Charter School and Science is Fun and Awesome Learning Academy— which are all funded through GDOE budget. While charter schools are under the GDOE umbrella, they have different focuses and missions, operating outside of the federally centralized education system.

 

Santos defended the lower cost charters school spend on each student, explaining that their expenditures are based on the allocations they receive under the department’s budget. “In simple math, it’s taking the number of students and dividing it by your budget. But the way I do it is you take the appropriated amount and divide it by the number of students you’ve got,” Santos said.

 

“If you want to argue the merit of $11,000 (vs) $600,” Santos said, ” I don’t think we want to go down that road because I heard a statement from [Education] Superintendent [Jon] Fernandez that he wanted to impanel a committee to look at the per-pupil cost.”

 

Amid the testimonies on public schools, Sen. Joe San Agustin, committee chairman, addressed the elephant in the room when he underscored the significance of private schools– without them, he added, GDOE would drown in funding and logistical deficiencies.

While bureaucrats and politicians discuss school funding, the real-world impact money has on a child’s education is still unclear. If charter schools receive less money than GDOE school but are still able to produce similar or better results the public is left wondering what the real problem is. Clearly, it’s not all about the money.

“I keep reminding DOE [that] when I look at the numbers and I look at what you’re asking for and what you’ve been getting, we spend more money on students at DOE than we do at charter schools,” Agustin said. “It doesn’t matter because if it weren’t for the private schools, DOE would drown today.”

 

Fact checking on the figures posed by Santos indicates that although GDOE spends more per pupil, it is not $11,000. That figure is based on the requested budget for the current fiscal year of $324 million. The approved budget was $220 million, putting the actual average cost-per-GDOE-student closer to $7,500. Still $1,500 more than the charter schools.

 

While bureaucrats and politicians discuss school funding, the real-world impact money has on a child’s education is still unclear. If charter schools receive less money than GDOE school but are still able to produce similar or better results the public is left wondering what the real problem is. Clearly, it’s not all about the money.

 

During my campaign for senator during the 2018 election I met a number of parents who asked about school vouchers, a system which puts the money in the parents’ hands, allowing them to decide which school to enroll their child/children, whether  public or private.

 

School choice would work something like this: Households with school-age children would register with the Department of Administration. Every school year families will receive a voucher (for each child) to be used only at an educational institution, public or private. The parents would be given a deadline to enroll their children to allow DOA time to allot and disseminate funds based on the enrollment.

 

Parents who choose to enroll their children in institutions with tuition costs greater than the value of the voucher will be required to pay the difference. For families with kids enrolled in private school who are not participating in the voucher program would get a tax abatement – justification for the abatement is based on their negative impact on government spending despite paying into taxes meant for education.

 

Through school choice, two major impacts would manifest out of necessity: competition and accountability. Arguments can be weighed on the pros and cons of having competitive schools but if policy remains focused on the core of the purpose of public education – to teach the youth – the scales would tip toward the emphasis of the results.

 

Are students learning in a safe and productive environment? What are kids learning? And will it help them develop into self-sufficient and self-reliant adults?

 

 

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Julius Santos is a news anchor and reporter for PNC News. Send feedback to gunnmedia671@gmail.com.

 

 

  

 

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