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The head of the hydra.

There's good news and bad news. The good news, of course, is that on November 3, 1993, California voters handed a 70 to 30 percent defeat to the advocates of tax support for sectarian schools. A broad coalition of teacher, parent, civic, religious, civil-liberties, and other groups made it clear to most voters that Proposition 174 was a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle that would cost them dearly, wreck public education in the state (already weakened by a tax-cut amendment to the state constitution more than a decade ago), create social fissures along religious and other lines, and violate every citizen's constitutional right not to be taxed to support religious institutions.

California humanist groups were active in the campaign to defend church, state separation, as was Americans for Religious Liberty, which got copies of two of its books, Al Menendez's Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach and my Catholic Schools: The Facts, to every newspaper editor in the state and most TV station general managers.

The bad news is that, like the mythical hydra that sprouts several new heads each time one is cut off, voucher advocates are surging back for a new round of major battles in 1994.

Hardly had the ballots been counted in California than two new initiatives were launched to get vouchers on the California ballot again in 1994. Voucher advocates undoubtedly learned some, thing in 1993 and will try to make fewer mistakes the next time around.

In Oregon and Colorado, where the parochiaiders were trounced at the polls in 1990 and 1992 by two-to-one margins, new initiatives are being planned. There will also be state constitutional, amendment or legislative initiatives or campaigns for vouchers (or their virtual equivalent: tuition-reimbursement tax credits) in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

The defenders of church-state separation and public education have won most cases against parochiaid and every significant statewide referendum on the issue since 1966 (19 out of 20, the one loss being a minor one in South Dakota). But powerful coalitions of sectarian special interests, such as the Catholic bishops and Pat Robertsoris Christian Coalition, along with their allies on the secular right, will mount formidable campaigns to make taxpayers pick up the tab for the destruction of public education, the subversion of our most fundamental rights, and the balkanization of our society. A new group, misleadingly calling itself Americans for School Choice, will coordinate and assist these campaigns. Among its leaders are Reagan education secretary William Bennett and Bush education secretary Lamar Alexander.

Sometimes it seems that we are like David going up against Gohath--but we've beaten them before and we can (and must) beat them again.

Let's shift back to some good news. According to the recently released Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of "Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools," three out of four Americans are opposed to voucher tax support for nonpublic schools. The twenty-fifth annual PDK/ Gallup survey even found that non, public-school parents opposed parochiaid by 55 to 45 percent. The question used was: "Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?"

On a related question, by 63 to 34 percent, respondents said that private schools accepting tax aid "should be accountable to public-school authorities." Public-school parents agreed 67 to 31 percent, but nonpublic-school parents--wanting to have their cake and eat it too--disagreed 57 to 40 percent.

So much for the myth that there is a groundswell of support for voucher or tuition tax-credit plans for nonpublic schools, about 90 percent of which are denominational religious institutions.

Choice among public schools within the community was favored 68 to 31 percent by public-school parents but, curiously, by only 61 to 38 percent of nonpublic-school parents.

Another myth shattered by the PDK/Gallup survey is the one about massive public rejection of public schools. The poll found that 68 percent of public-school parents and 63 percent of nonpublic-school parents rate the nation's public schools average to excellent; only 21 percent of public, and 27 percent of nonpublic-school parents rated them D or F.

However, when asked about public schools in their own communities, 84 percent of the public, and 78 percent of the nonpublic-school parents rated them okay to excellent. When asked to rate the school attended by their oldest child, 90 percent of the parents rated it okay to excellent.

When asked to name the biggest problems faced by public schools in their communities, 24 percent of public-school parents rated "lack of proper financial support" the top problem--well ahead of drug abuse (14 percent), lack of discipline (15 percent), and fighting/ violence/guns (14 percent).

As for remedying that problem, 90 percent of those polled (93 percent of the public-school parents and 86 percent of the nonpublic-school parents) favored action "to improve the quality of the public schools in the poorer states and in the poorer communities." (For the entire poll, 64 percent of the sample had no children in school; 33 percent were public-school parents; and 5 percent were nonpublic-school parents. The total exceeded 100 percent because some of the parents have children in both public and nonpublic schools.) Increasing taxes to help schools in poorer areas was favored by 71 percent of public-school parents but only 60 percent of nonpublic-school parents. There was general agreement-88 per, cent--that spending for public schools should be equalized regardless of whether students live in a wealthy or poor school district. Likewise, 80 per, cent of the respondents said it was "very important" to improve inner-city schools, with 62 percent of the public-school parents and 52 percent of the nonpublic-school parents expressing willingness to pay more federal taxes to improve the quality of the nation's inner, city schools.

On a related issue, 67 percent of public-school parents favored making tax-supported "child-care centers available for all preschool children as part of the public school system." Nonpublic, school parents were opposed 52 percent to 47 percent. So, too, public-school parents were more supportive than non, public-school parents of health and social services being made available to children in public schools.

While 73 percent of all parents think it is impossible to agree on "a set of basic values, such as honesty and patriotism, that would be taught in local public schools," there were differences with regard to specific values between public, and nonpublic-school parents, as Table I indicates. [TABULAR DATA 1 OMITTED]

Interestingly, the PDK/Gallup survey did not even hint that most non, public schools are sectarian. The results of the survey indicate that public opinion, despite all the propaganda and media blather to the contrary, remains strongly supportive of public education and strongly opposed to diversion of public funds to nonpublic, mostly sectarian schools.

Edd Doerr is executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty and a former vice-president of the American Humanist Association. Among his books on church, state issues is the recent Catholic Schools: The Facts.
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Title Annotation:Church and State; school vouchers
Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Previous Article:A cash-free society: nirvana or nightmare?
Next Article:The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion.

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