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Education Reporter

Vouchers Lose in California &
Michigan; Survive in Florida
Karen Holgate
Karen Holgate
Two statewide voucher initiatives, California's Proposition 38 and Michigan's Proposal 1, failed to win approval in the November 7 election, receiving only 30% of the vote in each state. Both proposals incurred the wrath of the powerful teachers unions, which spent millions to ensure their defeat.

A bright spot for voucher proponents, however, is the recent victory in Florida, where a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of that state's voucher program. Overturning a lower court ruling of last March, the panel ruled unanimously that the program does not violate Florida's constitution.

A spokesperson for Florida Governor Jeb Bush said the appeals court decision "affirms the Governor's view that nothing in the state constitution prohibits allowing public funds to be used for private school education." The voucher program was approved by the Florida legislature last year.

Proposition 38  
California's Proposition 38 would have required the state to phase in a voucher system over a four-year period. Each voucher would have been worth $4,000 or half the annual state or national per-pupil cost, whichever was higher. Under the program, private secular and religious schools would have been exempt from state regulations but subject to academic testing, which proved a major stumbling block for many parents.

"Mandatory, state-authorized 'politically-correct' achievement tests will give the government a foot in the door to supervise those tests, as well as to bring in the 'politically-correct' curriculum that prepares students to take the tests," one concerned mother stated.

Others worried that government regulations would eventually be imposed on all private schools, including home-schools. "California homeschools operate as private schools," noted homeschool leader Cathy Duffy. She asserted that homeschoolers have significantly less freedom in states with homeschool laws than they do in California, where there is no homeschool law. Mrs. Duffy added: "The passage of Proposition 38 would likely have been the catalyst for severe regulation of all private homeschools, whether or not families individually accepted vouchers."

On the other hand, the initiative had many pro-family backers, including California's Capitol Resource Institute (CRI). "With the defeat of Proposition 38, parents lost a chance to have more control over their children's education," CRI stated.

"It is our opinion that the authors of the proposition tried to write in as many protections as possible to guard against undue government regulation," CRI's Director of Policy Karen Holgate wrote in a special report, "and we caution those who believe that private schools, or home-schools for that matter, are currently exempt from undue government intrusion." The report points out that since 1998, several bills have passed in California which "seek to integrate curriculum with non-academic requirements, including requiring that all children be taught to appreciate diversity, and enforce wide-scale tolerance and anti-discrimination mandates."

Pacific Justice Institute attorney Brad Dacus agrees. "These same regulations would apply to many private religious and non-religious schools which receive any form of state or federal financial assistance, including assistance for a handicapped child in need of special education," Dacus said. "Proposition 38 provided unprecedented protection for all private schools in California."

Sandee Beckers
Sandee Beckers
California Eagle Forum State President Sandee Beckers said she arrived at her position of qualified support for the initiative only after considerable thought, prayer, and consultation with a variety of experts. "There were certainly well-warranted concerns on both sides of the issue," she admitted, "but any step away from the stifling, destructive mandates of state control would have been welcome."

Proposal 1 
Michigan's Proposal 1 would have given vouchers worth $3,300 to parents of children in under-performing public schools to be used for private or religious school tuition. The initiative required teacher testing and mandated a minimum funding level. Individual school boards would have been allowed to unilaterally impose vouchers or permit voters in their school districts to decide the issue through local elections. The proposal would also have opened the door for the state legislature to implement the program statewide.

Former Education Secretary William Bennett and Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson were among the national political figures who endorsed Proposal 1. Bennett accused the teacher unions of "putting politics above the interests of children" in opposing the initiative, and warned that the voucher issue "will not disappear."

Cost to Public Schools 
The sizeable defeat of both Proposal 1 and Proposition 38 shows that, although many parents favor choice, they nevertheless responded to the claims of opponents that vouchers drain funding for public schools. Syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell calls this "a scare tactic." "In reality," he wrote, "vouchers never pay as much as the public schools spend per pupil. When students leave the public schools, the total costs of education go down, not up. But lies are the norm in propaganda."

Columnist David Broder offered a simple hypothetical example to demonstrate the fallacy of the mantra that vouchers will destroy America's public school system. Broder calculates that, after adopting a voucher program worth $3,000 per child, a unified school district with 100,000 students, spending $6,000 per child for a total of $600 million per year, would still have $6,000 to spend on each child during the first year if 10,000 students left the district to attend private schools. Assuming that the number of students leaving the district increased incrementally each succeeding year by 10,000, this district would have $8,400 to spend on every child remaining in the public schools after five years of the voucher program.

Broder asks, if money isn't the real issue, why should teacher unions be so opposed to vouchers? "It's simple," he answers. "If voucher systems become a reality, some parents will pull their children out of the public schools and put them in private schools or homeschool them, and the number of jobs for teachers and administrators will decrease. That's why teacher unions are so supportive, with both their PAC money and personal votes, of elected officials who say they are opposed to vouchers and promise to work to defeat them."

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