EDUCATION: SCHOOL CHOICE

A national effort is under way to reform America's troubled public schools. But while most educators agree that change is needed, there is sharp disagreement over how best to reform public education. Many conservative activists champion school choice - a program that would give parents a government voucher to pay for a child's education in any private, public, or parochial school. But the idea of using government funds for private schools has been adamantly opposed by teachers' unions. School choice is one of the main education issues dividing the two presidential candidates. Bush

Strongly supports the "GI Bill for Children," which the administration proposed this summer. The bill calls for spending $500 million for a four-year grant program that would allow states and local communities to provide $1,000 educational vouchers to middle- and low-income families. The vouchers - which Bush calls "scholarships" - could be redeemed at any "lawfully operating" private, public, or parochial school.

The GOP platform states: "This innovative plan will not only drive schools to excel as they compete, but will also give every parent consumer power to obtain an excellent education for his or her child." Clinton

Strongly opposes a voucher program that would include private and parochial schools. He also opposes giving tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools. Either program, Clinton argues, would "bankrupt the public school system - the bedrock of democracy." He also raises concerns that providing government funding to parochial schools could violate the First Amendment's prohibition against government sponsorship of religion.

However, Clinton does favor giving parents the right to choose to send their children to any public school as long as there is "protection from discrimination based on race, religion, or income." The governor instituted such a public-school choice program in Arkansas.

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