10/1997: The Voucher Voice

Published October 1, 1997

National Training Workshop Scheduled

On October 28-30 in Bentonville, Arkansas, CEO America will present an information-packed workshop for persons interested in starting a privately funded voucher program. The program will feature presentations by the private voucher movement’s leading spokespersons, including representatives of programs in Indianapolis, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Albany, and New York City. “Nuts and bolts” panel discussions will focus on fundraising, legal and organizational structure issues, and public relations.

The registration fee for the workshop is $95. For more information, contact CEO America at 501/273-6957 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Coats Sponsors Capitol Hill Hearing on Choice

While other proposals will take decades to work, school choice has the potential to improve the education of inner-city children immediately, said U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana) on July 29, when he opened a full Labor and Human Resources Committee hearing on school choice and voucher programs.

Coats, who is chairman of the Senate Children and Families Subcommittee, called the hearing to show that the school choice issue is more than a “right-wing” attack on public schools. Not unexpectedly, Carole Shields of People for the American Way still blasted the hearings as “stacked” and part of a campaign by the “Religious Right” to “erode confidence in our public schools.”

But the hearing’s witnesses–whether political conservatives or urban blacks–conveyed little confidence in the public schools.

Barbara Lewis’s son was “falling through the cracks” and failing academically in the public schools but became an honor roll student after a privately funded scholarship program permitted him to attend Holy Cross Catholic School in Indianapolis.

Lewis, who is president of the Indianapolis-based Families Organized for Real Choice in Education, believes strongly that all children should have the opportunity for a good education. As it stands now, she says, parents don’t have a choice and “the public school system is destroying itself.”

The public school system has betrayed the promise of education to the poor, said Representative Glenn Lewis of Texas. By contrast, parental choice has the potential to empower parents and energize students, testified Marshall Breger, vice-chairman of the conservative Jewish Policy Center.

Pamela Ballard’s older daughter, failing academically and labeled a “problem child” by public school teachers and administrators, was energized when the privately funded Cleveland Scholarship Program enabled her to transfer to a private school. She is now more enthusiastic about school, and her academic performance has improved considerably.

Scholars Hit Jackpot in Indianapolis CHOICE Lottery

Special appearances by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Indianapolis Mayor Steven Goldsmith on Friday, August 22, closed the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust’s biggest week since its launch in 1991. One hundred-fifty new scholarships, funded by new donor commitments totaling $150,000 a year, were awarded by lottery.

Thirteen Indianapolis business people donated this new money to the CHOICE Trust with the request that it be distributed by lottery. Applicants were reached by newspaper and radio ads and a mass mailing, all made possible through the generosity of the American Education Reform Foundation and Golden Rule Insurance Company.

Although the lottery was not announced until July 31, it attracted unprecedented coverage on the four local television stations and in the local newspaper. The publicity raised public awareness of alternatives to the public schools, with inner city non-public schools reporting a sharp increase in the number of walk-ins for registration.

Within two weeks, 1,925 students had applied for the scholarships. Recipients were chosen by a lottery drawing on August 18. Speaker Gingrich and Mayor Goldsmith presented certificates to several of the lottery winners at a special breakfast event on August 18, where three graduates of the CHOICE program also were introduced. Gingrich agreed to attend the event because he is a strong advocate of school reform.

Coats: School Choice Gaining Momentum

Why the sudden surge of activity and interest in school choice? asks U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana) in a recent Washington Times article called “School Choice: Now More Than Ever.”

The first reason “is the collapse of public education, which has been accurately described as institutionalized child neglect,” writes Coats. The movement to reform education would be more like the French Revolution, he notes, if only 12 percent of suburban high school seniors tested “proficient” in reading, as African-Americans do.

The second reason is the growing consensus on the model for success provided by Catholic schools. Coats, who is not Catholic, points out that Catholic schools are more racially integrated than their public counterparts, succeed at about half the cost, and record disproportionate gains with disadvantaged students. Starting with the premise that every student can succeed if properly guided, Catholic schools show clearly that the children of poverty and broken homes can succeed.

“The public schools allow students to choose easy courses, while the Catholic schools have the same high expectations of all students,” says Diane Ravich, pointing out that Catholic schools require all students, from all backgrounds, to take the same difficult courses.

While these two trends have produced convergence on school choice among conservatives and activist Democrats, writes Coats, they have produced confusion and even anger among low-income parents, who see a liberal establishment “committed to standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent their children from entering functional, integrated schools.”