The votes against vouchers

Of all the results from ballot initiatives on Tuesday, two have national repercussions. In both Michigan and California, voters gave a big thumbs down to tuition vouchers for education.

Opponents say a system of giving tax dollars to parents to pay for private schooling would segregate society, lower educational standards, and support religious institutions that run private schools.

Proponents say vouchers would bring choice, quality, and accountability to education. And they claim teachers unions used money and scare tactics to help defeat the initiatives.

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Obviously, such a drastic reform of public schools was too much for most voters in those two big states. Polls do show, however, that many parents want more choice in education, especially in "failed" urban schools. But that goal must now be met through smaller steps than wholesale dismantling of the present public schools.

Of the two defeated initiatives, the California measure envisioned a huge transfer of public education money - $4,000 for any child whose parents want a shift in schools, regardless of the family's financial resources. Voters could reasonably reject this proposal as just too sweeping, while not necessarily rejecting the idea of greater school choice.

Significantly, Californians approved another measure that makes it easier for school districts to raise money through bond elections and also ensures more funding for charter schools. Charters, which operate outside the bureaucratic structure of normal public schools, are an increasingly popular way of expanding options within the system.

Michigan's proposal was narrowly drawn to benefit students from "failing" schools. The few, small voucher programs under way in the country - such as Milwaukee's - have a similar goal of helping city children from poorer families escape bad schools. Much of the opposition to vouchers comes from well-off suburbs.

The voucher movement is not likely to go away until all Americans realize they have a shared interest in improving public education. And the focus of that public interest should be in bringing more choice to schools, starting with those in urban areas.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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