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October 2000

School Vouchers: Pro and Con Views


Lewis K. Uhler is president of the National Tax Limitation Committee.


Jacki Antee is president of AARP - California.

Lewis Uhler: Yes on 38 Jacki Antee: No on 38

The verdict is in: California's public schools are failing our children and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars in the process. We are next-to-last in the nation in reading and math scores, and today over one-third of high school freshmen will not go on to graduate. One-third of all incoming freshmen will find themselves with fewer professional opportunities, greater impoverishment, and, sadly, increased chances of an encounter with the criminal justice system.

It is not due to a lack of money, as taxpayers are repeatedly asked to bail out our public school failures. Our state's spending per pupil has risen over 60 percent in the last 10 years, with nothing to show for it.

Taxpayers have footed the bill to the tune of $371 billion over the last decade for public education, in addition to the millions in state and local bonds issued at taxpayer expense.

Our government-run school system is failing because there is no competition and no accountability to parents and taxpayers. These two essential ingredients have been effectively eliminated from the educational system by our state's teachers unions and their politicians through backroom deals and millions in campaign contributions. This failing monopoly will continue to waste tax dollars and trap our children in failing schools as long as parents and taxpayers are shut out of the process.

Waste, incompetence and abuse are rampant in our public schools. Just look at the Belmont Learning Center fiasco. The Los Angeles Unified School District spent $170 million of taxpayer money on a high school that was later abandoned when they realized they were building on a toxic waste site. Is it any wonder that the LAUSD says that its $8.9 billion-a-year budget isn't enough?

Proposition 38 Yes, the School Voucher initiative on the November ballot, will finally give taxpayers the chance to take control of their education dollars and make schools - public and private - accountable to parents and taxpayers.

Proposition 38 will put $4,000 into the hands of parents, putting accountability and choice back where it belongs. Armed with this voucher, parents will be able to send their children to a private or religious school, where they will be welcomed by a system that will put the interests of the children at the center of their education. Secondly, it will provide a minimum funding guarantee for all California's public school students, mandating that per-pupil spending is at least equal to the national average.

Proposition 38 is the only way to give parents real educational choice and improve public schools without a tax increase. According to the nonpartisan California State Legislative Analyst's Office, if only 15 percent of public students leave the failing public school system over the first few years after Proposition 38 passes, it will result in a net savings to the state of $700 million a year. How is this possible? Precisely due to the fact that vouchers only cost half of the state's per-pupil spending. The state is able to educate the same child at a school of the parent's choice for half the cost.

The evidence is clear that vouchers work. Publicly funded vouchers have proven to be successful in Milwaukee, Cleveland and most recently Florida. Private vouchers have proven effective in New York, Washington, D.C., Dayton and San Antonio. In fact, according to studies by the Manhattan Institute and Harvard University, vouchers academically benefit the students who use them, provide a safer, learning-friendly environment and force public schools to improve since they are in a position of competing for students.

The current voucher programs have seen test scores rise significantly for all students, even more so for minorities. Parents are more satisfied with the curriculum and discipline, also saying that the new voucher schools experience less racial strife and violence. Kids with vouchers are getting a better education, opening doors to more opportunities and a brighter future. Society will be better off because numerous studies have shown that better-educated kids lead to millions of taxpayer savings through smaller welfare rolls and fewer kids committing crimes and becoming career criminals.

Proposition 38 is fair, responsible and prudent. It will give all parents the freedom to choose the educational opportunity best suited to their child. Proposition 38 means educational accountability to parents and taxpayers, smaller class sizes and safer schools, all while providing a savings to taxpayers.

Proposition 38 would create a system of unregulated voucher schools that would radically and permanently change the way California educates its children. AARP of California, representing over 2.9 million seniors, is strongly opposed to this initiative. It would abandon our neighborhood schools and cost taxpayers billions of dollars - all without any accountability.

Proposition 38 would do nothing to help public education. Not one penny of the billions spent on the Draper Voucher Initiative will be used to improve our schools. No new textbooks, no increased access to technology, and nothing to ease overcrowded classrooms.

Proposition 38 would create a huge new expense for taxpayers. Just providing the $4,000 voucher mandated by the initiative to the 700,000 students currently enrolled in private schools would cost the state over $3 billion each year. Paying for these vouchers and the tracking bureaucracies created by Proposition 38 would require a tax increase or a cut in vital services. This could impact funding for public safety, health and state-funded programs important to seniors. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association understands the negative implications for taxpayers and joins us in opposition to this initiative.

Taxpayers lose in other ways because Proposition 38 provides no accountability. It would exempt voucher schools from all state educational standards, including a high school exit exam. Teachers would not be required to have a teaching credential or even a college degree. Voucher schools would not be required to have their finances audited and they could make decisions on spending tax dollars in secret. The initiative would provide a $4,000 voucher to those who home school their children, but provides no system to monitor their activity. In addition, Proposition 38 does not provide for the Legislature to uncover or prosecute fraud. This is legally unprecedented and no other voucher proposal in any other state has this provision.

Proposition 38 claims to offer choice to parents but it is really the schools that would choose. Private voucher schools can reject applicants for almost any reason, including low test scores, language skills, religion, gender, inability to pay or learning disabilities. A new study by WestEd, a non-profit research agency, reveals that private schools are at or near capacity and a $4,000 voucher is not enough of an incentive to expand.

Even long-time supporters of school vouchers believe that Proposition 38 is too extreme. It does not target low-income students in low-performing schools. A new study by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) confirms that Proposition 38 is "essentially tax relief for the well-off." WestEd supports this conclusion and states that Proposition 38 will only benefit more affluent children and not greatly increase access for low-income families.

As parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens of California, AARP firmly believes that we must invest in our public schools - not abandon them. As seniors and taxpayers, we are concerned that Proposition 38 will either cost taxpayers billions of dollars or result in cuts to essential state programs. We urge Californians to vote NO on Proposition 38.