Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Vouchers sought for W-H students

Tue, Jul. 19, 2005

By Nathaniel Jones
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

DALLAS - Officials with Liberty Legal Institute said Monday they will ask Gov. Rick Perry for state money to fund vouchers for the 2,900 students in the Wilmer-Hutchins school district.

Wilmer-Hutchins' state-appointed board has voted to close the district for at least a year while it tries to sort out financial and educational problems. The district has been accused of cheating on standardized tests and of financial mismanagement.

The Dallas school district likely will be home for the Wilmer-Hutchins students next year after the Lancaster district rejected a proposal to accept them.

The Dallas district is adjacent to the Wilmer-Hutchins district in southern Dallas County.

Vouchers would give parents in Wilmer-Hutchins the choice of where they want their children to be educated, said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute.

"This is better than auctioning them off to the highest bidder," he said.

Because the state does not currently fund vouchers, Sasser said the group will seek an executive order from Perry.

Liberty Legal officials met with Wilmer-Hutchins parents Monday night to discuss the proposal. Liberty Legal is best known for taking on religious freedom cases, but Sasser said the organization was asked by a group of Wilmer-Hutchins parents to get involved.

At issue is the $6,500 per student Dallas school officials said it needed to merge Wilmer-Hutchins students with the Dallas school district.

The Dallas school officials and the Texas Education Agency are currently working on a plan to fund that merger.

Sasser said the state needs to take that money and use it on vouchers so that students can attend any school they choose.

Former Wilmer-Hutchins Superintendent Charles Mathews, who led the school district into turmoil, stood behind members of the Liberty Legal Institute to announce their request to Perry.

"This cuts down on the focus on the administration and allows teachers to teach our children," Mathews said. "I live in this district, I pay taxes here, and I want to do what's best for the students."

Matthews was indicted in March on charges of tampering with evidence and could face additional criminal charges related to the downfall of Wilmer-Hutchins district. He predicted Monday that he would be cleared of all charges.
Nathaniel Jones, (972) 263-4448

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