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The problems with education coupons.

Why the CBC opposes school vouchers

Like many of the African Americans who participated in a survey conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies last year, are you thinking that education vouchers might be just the remedy to the nation's ailing public school system? Well, think again, is the advice of the Congressional Black Caucus.

A voucher program, which would allow public funds to be used for private or parochial school tuitions, seems like a cost-effective way of allowing underprivileged students to attend private school. But some CBC members disagree.

Vouchers are "a big gimmick, a big scam," says Rep. William Clay Sr. (D-Mo.), who for many years served on the House Education and the Workforce Committee before his retirement in January. Although vouchers were a big issue on the campaign trail last year, he explains, the federal government provides only 7% of the nation's education dollars, "so, [it's] not even a major player [on the issue]." Local governments could decide they want to provide vouchers for private and parochial schools, Clay adds, "but the courts will say they can't do it unless those schools are nondiscriminatory, and that's the catch."

Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) has another theory. "Let's assume for a moment that we switch to a voucher system and give every parent a $3,000 or $4,000 voucher. How do you [stop schools from] raising their tuition's and pricing out many of the families we want to help the most?" The real beneficiaries of any voucher program are middle-and upper-middle income families, Ford argues, "although the rhetoric is primarily aimed at what [Republicans] call under-performing schools."

Another problem, says Clay, is that voucher systems take the cream of the crop. "They are talking about vouchers for about 5% or 10% of the children who are presently in the public school system, leaving the other 90% to 95% of the kids in the system at a further disadvantage. There is no will on the part of legislators throughout this country to appropriate sufficient amounts of dollars to accommodate every child who would like to go to a private school," he says.

Like other CBC members, Clay and Ford believe that voucher programs would drain much-needed resources from school systems that are in dire need of more, not less. "It would be devastating. Right now, school systems don't have enough money, especially in the areas where these proponents of vouchers are showing their concern--little black kids in innercities who go to failing schools," charges Clay. "But when you take money away from those failing schools, they [fail] more, don't they? So that's the hypocrisy we're faced with."

Instead of using public dollars to fund private educations, the two congressmen wonder, why not replicate the factors that contribute to private and parochial schools success? "The model is there' smaller classes, adequate resources, strong faculties. Put that ail together and hold them accountable," says Ford.

Voucher proponents "don't understand that this is an attack on the public school systems," says Clay. "If they want to do something for failing schools, they ought to be supporting an increase in the number of teachers. They ought to be supporting Charlie Rangel's proposal to repair dilapidated buildings and build new structures."
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Title Annotation:social and economic toll of school-voucher systems
Author:Jones, Joyce
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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