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Church and state: Californians to face voucher "velociraptor." (school vouchers)

On November 2, 1993, California voters will have to vote on a voucher plan for tax aid to sectarian and other private schools--a plan about as nasty as the velociraptors in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. The California plan is the most expensive and massive parochiaid scheme ever to get on the ballot anywhere in the United States.

Although the proposed amendment to the state constitution, misleadingly called the "Parental Choice in Education Initiative," was originally scheduled to go on the ballot in June 1994, Governor Pete Wilson rescheduled the election for November 2, 1993, possibly in an effort to avoid having it on the ballot next June during the Republican primary.

The voucher plan, if passed, would provide about $2,600 per year per student to nonpublic schools in the state. With more than 532,000 students in nonpublic schools in California, the cost of the plan would be about $1.38 billion per year even if no other students transfer to nonpublic from public schools. Each transfer from a public to a nonpublic school would decrease state and local funding for public schools by about $5,200 per year.

But that's not all. The initiative allows the state legislature to provide funds for transportation to voucher schools. As nonpublic school attendance areas are rarely as compact as those of public schools, the costs of such bussing could be astronomical, as is the case in such states as Ohio and Pennsylvania. In addition, the initiative provides that the value of each voucher (or "scholarship," as the initiative's authors call them in an effort to make them appear less objectionable) is to be "at least 50 percent of the average amount of state and local government spending" for public education for grades kindergarten through twelfth. This wording allows the legislature to raise the value of vouchers to 75 percent, 90 percent, or even 100 percent of the cost per student of public education.

Where all this money is to come from if the initiative is passed is not made clear by its advocates. But California has just had to deal with a $14 billion deficit, and so the funds for vouchers would undoubtedly come from California's already seriously under-funded public schools.

The voucher initiative is sponsored by a group calling itself the Excellence Through Choice Education League. Opposing its passage is a broad-based coalition, the Committee to Educate Against Vouchers. Americans for Religious Liberty, the California Teachers Association, and other groups will be working through CEAV to defeat the measure.

Among the many objectionable features of the voucher initiative (based on an (analysis of its wording) are: 1. It would compel California taxpayers

to support sectarian private schools

in violation of their fundamental

right not to be taxed for the support

of religious institutions. 2. The plan would give tax support to

private schools which promote prejudice

against various faiths. 3. It tries to give the impression that

the tax money is "aid to children

through their parents and not to the

schools," but the initiative's section

17(b)(7) clearly states that "the

State shall disburse the student's

scholarship funds [voucher] . . .

directly to the school" 4. It would give state support to any

group that could muster 25 or more

students and provides that "no

school which meets requirements of

this Section shall be prevented from

becoming a scholarship-redeeming

school" Thus, any school--even one

operated by a David Koresh or a Jim

Jones or any other sort of sectarian

or political extremist--could receive

state funding. 5. The initiative, while barring discrimination

on the basis of race or ethnicity,

would allow discrimination in admissions

and teacher hiring on the

basis of religion, gender, income, IQ

test score, marital status, views on

politics or reproductive rights, even

mental or physical disability 6. It would allow dismissal of any student

"who is deriving no substantial

academic benefit," a feature that

would give voucher schools carte

blanche to get rid of just about any

student its staff does not like. 7. It would not allow meaningful state

regulation of voucher schools, just as

private schools in California today

are almost totally unregulated. 8. The initiative would allow and encourage

public schools to be converted

into voucher-supported private

schools shielded from normal

public regulation. 9. The plan would, in the long run,

transfer money from the needy to the

wealthy--the poor and the handicapped

are not likely to benefit at all

from such a plan. 10. The "parental choice" label is deceiving.

Parents would not ultimately

make the choice of schools for

their children; rather, it is the private

schools that will choose which

students to admit, which teachers to

hire, and which creed or theology to


The California initiative, in short, is a scheme to wreck public education and undermine the principle of the separation of church and state. Concerned citizens who want to help defeat this pernicious scam should contact Americans for Religious Liberty, P.O. Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20906, or the CEAV, 18401 Von Karman Avenue, Suite 120, Irvine, CA 92715.
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Article Details
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Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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