In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 decision—that the inclusion of religious schools in the Cleveland school voucher program is a legitimate exercise of state authority under the U.S. Constitution—the focus of the battle over school choice has returned once again to individual state legislatures across the country. State lawmakers now have the responsibility for deciding how the new meaning of public education will be translated into laws that affect the education of children in their communities.
This month’s roundup attempts to summarize the political environment for school vouchers in many states across the country, recognizing politics is the most important factor affecting the likely approval of voucher legislation.
Issues, concerns, and opposition to vouchers, while they must be addressed, tend to be similar across states. Five are key:
In the 2001-02 school year, education in the U.S. public schools required revenues of approximately $8,500 per student, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Setting the value of the voucher less than that amount—say, 80 percent—would guarantee that for every public school student who takes a voucher, the result would be either savings to taxpayers or more money for each pupil remaining in the public schools.
School choice advocates believe vouchers should be available to all students or to only a limited set of students. Most new legislation under consideration involves vouchers targeted to specific populations. This may be done by a simple process, such as limiting vouchers by family income, or by a more complex process, such as limiting vouchers to students at “failing” schools. An additional limitation would be to restrict vouchers only to students transferring from public schools, as the Milwaukee program does.
Although many state constitutions have a clause that bars the appropriation of any public money in aid of a church or private or sectarian school, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 decision specifically rejected the argument that parents were simply “conduits” to send tax dollars to sectarian institutions. Thus, voucher programs like Cleveland’s—that aid parents, not schools—apparently do not run afoul of such restrictions. Even in states where constitutions also bar “indirect” aid to sectarian institutions, vouchers are likely to pass legal scrutiny because the state loses its ability to direct public funds when parents can choose among a range of sectarian and non-sectarian providers.
Whether voucher legislation is approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor depends on the strength of grassroots support in each state, which party controls the state legislature, and the views of the governor.
The strongest opposition to school vouchers comes, not surprisingly, from school superintendents and teacher union officials: those who have a financial interest in the perpetuation of the current education system.
The teacher unions are very active in the political process. Having lost in the Supreme Court, their voucher-opposition strategy is now likely to concentrate more heavily on ensuring the election of candidates who are either neutral or opposed to school vouchers.
Opposition to vouchers also comes from those who object to tax dollars finding their way into religious schools under any circumstances. Opposition from this quarter is unlikely to be as vigorous as that from the teacher unions. For one thing, consistency would require that those who oppose vouchers for this reason also call for the repeal of GI Bill vouchers, Pell Grants, and Preschool Child Care Block Grants—all of which may be used at religious institutions.
Gubernatorial Candidates Spar Over Vouchers
John Giles, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, believes the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Cleveland voucher program “opens up the gateway” for meaningful school choice legislation to be introduced next year. But the gubernatorial candidates in the November 5 general election differ significantly in their views on vouchers.
Alabama’s current governor, Democrat Don Siegelman, opposes vouchers. His Republican opponent, U.S. Congressman Bob Riley, thinks they provide an option for improving public education.
“I also believe that healthy competition forces schools to improve and excel, which results in a better education for Alabama’s schoolchildren,” Riley told AP reporter Bob Johnson.
State Senator Bill Armistead, GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, introduced a voucher bill in the most recent legislative session to permit parents to transfer their children from a failing public school to another public school or to a private school. Armistead’s opponent, State Treasurer Lucy Baxley, disagrees with Armistead’s approach, saying the state’s emphasis shouldn’t be on vouchers but on improving public education.
Anniston Star (Alabama)
June 28, 2002
Voucher Action Unlikely Until Next Year
With gubernatorial candidates on opposite sides of the issue, any action on vouchers in Alaska will likely be put off until a new administration takes office next year.
The GOP nominee, U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski, hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 voucher ruling, saying it would “open the way to better education for children.” His Democratic opponent, lieutenant governor Fran Ulmer, questioned how the state’s “stressed” school funding could support both public and private schools.
“I feel public resources should support public schools and private resources should fund private schools,” she told Fairbanks Daily News.
Alaska has expanded parental choices during the past decade by changing state law to allow charter schools and by expanding curriculum options for correspondence study students to include religious materials. However, a Governor’s Commission on School Choice concluded the state’s constitution did not allow vouchers.
Fairbanks Daily News
June 28, 2002
Vouchers Require Leadership
Although Arizona is top-rated on the Manhattan Institute’s scale of educational freedom, that doesn’t mean lawmakers have the stomach for the tough battle required to add school vouchers to the Grand Canyon State’s array of educational options, according to the editors of the Arizona Republic.
The last time vouchers came close to being approved was in the mid-1990s, when a $1,500 voucher for low-income families was pushed by then-governor Fife Symington and then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan.
Almost all Democratic candidates for governor and education superintendent are strongly opposed to vouchers. On the GOP side, all gubernatorial candidates are strongly pro-voucher, but only one candidate in the superintendent race—Jaime Molera—is a strong school choice advocate. Molera favors vouchers for low-income students and for those attending low-performing schools. His strong advocacy of vouchers cost him the endorsement of the teacher union.
Secretary of State Betsey Bayless has released a voucher proposal modeled on Florida’s statewide A+ Program, where students in persistently failing schools are eligible for vouchers. However, rather than tackle a difficult legislative battle over vouchers, some social conservatives are shifting their attention to expanding the existing tuition tax credit program.
The Arizona Republic
July 3, 2002.
Haynes Crafts Voucher Bill
State Senator Ray Haynes (R-Riverside) had a shell bill—Senate Bill 177—ready in anticipation of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court voucher decision. On June 27, he and his staff drafted a school choice plan that would give parents access to about half of the approximately $8,000 per-pupil tax dollars California allocates to public education. Any parent could use the $4,000 for or towards a child’s tuition at a private school.
“The districts lose a whole kid, but they keep half the money,” Haynes told the San Francisco Chronicle, emphasizing the plus side of his proposal.
“It would break the bank,” said California Alliance for Public Schools spokesperson Kevin Gordon, emphasizing the minus side of Haynes’ proposal. The 650,000 students already in private schools would be eligible for the voucher, costing the state some $2.6 billion.
With Haynes’ bill unlikely to advance far in the Democrat-controlled legislature, Pacific Research Institute Education Director Lance Izumi suggested other possibilities: a pilot program in an individual district, targeting children in low-income families, or targeting students in failing public schools.
San Francisco Chronicle
June 28, 2002
Voucher Progress Hangs on One Vote
Efforts will be made over the summer to seek support for a pilot voucher program and another tax credit bill, according to Colorado State Representative Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), whose school tuition tax credit bill was killed earlier this year by Democrats in the Senate, where they hold a one-vote majority.
“We’ve got the legal clarification we need—the next thing we will wait for is a Republican Senate,” Spence told The Denver Post. Democrats also recognize they need to keep their majority in this fall’s elections to stop Republican voucher legislation, according to Senator Ron Tupa (D-Boulder).
A Republican Senate wouldn’t be quite so critical if some legislators switched sides on the voucher issue. Sue O’Brien, editorial page editor of the Denver Post, did so in a July 7 column explaining why she “finally abandoned the anti-voucher orthodoxy of many liberals.” When she was growing up, she recounts, “I didn’t need a voucher” because her parents could afford private schools when the public schools appeared inadequate.
O’Brien likes the Cleveland program because it is means-tested. “Only disadvantaged families can get public help to change their children’s schools,” she writes. “These are the folks who’ve been left out—left stuck in failing schools with no choices and no remedies. To them, I’m delighted to extend a helping hand.”
June 28, 2002 and July 7, 2002
Constitution State Not Ready for Vouchers
The Supreme Court may have upheld the constitutionality of school vouchers, but the Constitution State isn’t likely to see them soon, according to state Senator Win Smith Jr. (R-Milford), a long-time voucher advocate.
Despite GOP Governor John G. Rowland’s championship of vouchers, Smith said there’s no “wide sweep of support” for them, either among legislators or the general public. Even if there were, they likely wouldn’t be considered until the state has fixed its budget crisis, which is Rowland’s current focus.
“I don’t think the Connecticut body politic is ready for [school vouchers] yet,” Smith told the Middletown Press. “To have a new initiative like this, you need fairly broad support.”
Although voucher opponents object to public funds finding their way to religious schools, Quinnipiac Law School professor Stephen G. Gilles said this is done “all the time” in other areas. For example, Gilles said millions of federal tax dollars for Medicaid and Medicare are routinely paid to hospitals run by religious organizations, and federal tax dollars pay for higher education at religious colleges and universities under the GI Bill.
July 2, 2002
Cleveland Voucher Objections Recycled in Florida
In their recent argument before the U.S. Supreme Court, school choice opponents contended the decisions of parents in the Cleveland voucher program were “inconsequential,” and that parents were simply “conduits” for public money to flow directly from the state of Ohio to religious schools in Cleveland.
Although that argument didn’t impress the U.S. Supreme Court, it was recycled by the state teacher union and the American Civil Liberties Union in their attack on the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program in a Tallahassee courtroom on July 9, 2002.
Florida’s constitution provides that “no revenue of the state … shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church … or in aid of any sectarian institution.” Voucher opponents argued this makes the Opportunity Scholarships unconstitutional even though, as in Cleveland, the funds don’t go to an institution but to a parent who makes an independent choice about where to spend the money.
The state’s lawyers, along with attorneys from the Institute for Justice, argued the scholarships were designed to aid education, not religious schools, and that excluding religious schools would violate the government’s required neutrality towards religion. Attorney Barry Richard, presenting the state’s case, pointed out that other state programs—such as college financial aid—would be invalidated if the arguments of the opponents were upheld.
Circuit Court Judge Kevin Davey ruled against the program on August 5.
St. Petersburg Times – July 10, 2002
Institute for Justice – July 15, 2002
Privatization Tabled after Union Protest
Instead of privatizing maintenance at its 27 schools and letting the market determine how inexpensively the work could be done, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted on July 10 just to privatize the management of the district’s maintenance division and to continue staffing the operation with about 1,133 unionized public employees.
In May, the Board tabled the proposal of an oversight board to privatize maintenance after union protesters shut down a school board meeting for 20 minutes.
A series of internal and state audits of the maintenance division had reported the loss of millions of dollars to waste and inefficiency. The district is severely overcrowded, and the wasted capital funds could have been used to build new schools. The division’s three labor unions claim high maintenance costs are the fault of management, not workers.
The unions have filed a lawsuit to free up $85 million in frozen district funds that require the recommendation of the oversight board before they can be released to the district.
July 11, 2002
Peach State Not Ready for Vouchers
Georgia’s Democratic Governor, Roy Barnes, opposes vouchers and, judging from comments made by his three Republican challengers, vouchers aren’t likely to be available soon to parents in the Peach State even if a Republican is elected governor. The most ambitious proposal from the three candidates is a pilot program offered by the strongest voucher supporter, former Cobb County Commission Chairman Bill Byrne.
“I don’t think Georgia is ready for the voucher system,” Byrne told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Another GOP gubernatorial hopeful, former State Senator Sonny Perdue, refused to say whether, if he were elected, he would sign a Republican voucher bill if it passed the legislature. The third GOP candidate, state school superintendent Linda Schrenko, has supported and opposed voucher plans in the past but most recently sounded a theme more often heard from voucher opponents.
“I don’t think you have to pay for the private schools with public money,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
July 5, 2002
Dissatisfied Parents Would Welcome Vouchers
Dissatisfaction with Hawaii’s public schools is so widespread that even politicians criticize the current system. Test scores are consistently low and the state already has one of the highest private school enrollment rates in the country—more than 15 percent.
Although public school supporters maintain vouchers would be difficult to sell to voters and lawmakers, educators like Sacred Hearts Academy Vice Principal Remee Bolante think vouchers would have “a big impact” with so many parents disenchanted with the public schools.
“If they’re given a choice, I think parents would flock to the private schools,” Bolante told the Honolulu Advertiser.
But the earliest parents could get that choice would be 2005, according to State Representative Ken Ito (D-Kane’ohe). Voters first would have to repeal the state constitution’s prohibition on public money going to private schools, and then legislators would have to pass a voucher program and the governor would have to sign it. The earliest the first step could take place is in the 2004 general election, and the earliest the legislature could act would be in the 2005 legislative session.
June 28, 2002
Voucher Plans Revived in Illinois
The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 decision to uphold the Cleveland school voucher program has revived interest in pushing for school vouchers in Illinois, where earlier attempts have failed to clear the legislature.
In recent years, vouchers have taken a back seat to tax credit proposals, which have met with some success. A $500 tuition tax credit plan approved in 1999 was used by 165,900 families last year—2.9 percent of resident tax filers.
Zach Wichmann, associate director of education for the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said the Cleveland decision brought voucher plans to the fore again, prompting a meeting with officials from other religious organizations. Those organizations included the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Association of Christian Schools, and Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization.
“We have some planning to do,” Wichmann told the Chicago Tribune. “We need to design a voucher program that has a chance of passing through the General Assembly.”
Before bills can pass the General Assembly, they must be introduced, and Senator Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst), the sponsor of a 1995 voucher bill, told the Tribune he didn’t plan to introduce a voucher bill in the upcoming session. Vouchers were “a tough sell,” he said.
June 28, 2002
Ruling Invigorates Voucher Proponents
Indiana House Education Committee Chairman Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) predicted school vouchers would be “a hot-button issue” in the next session of the Indiana legislature, following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Cleveland’s school choice program. While voucher opponents deplored the decision, school choice supporters were invigorated by it. They would like to see a voucher program in Indiana, as would many parents.
“We will push harder for vouchers now, there’s no question about that,” educator Joseph Peters told The Indianapolis Star. Peters is associate director of education for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Voucher legislation has never cleared the Indiana legislature. A 2001 school choice bill sponsored by State Senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) died in committee. It was the failure of the legislature to pass a school voucher measure a decade ago that prompted local business leader J. Patrick Rooney to create the Educational Choice Charitable Trust, which now provides privately funded vouchers to about 2,000 children from low-income families in Indianapolis.
June 28, 2002
More Debate Expected, But Not Vouchers
The Supreme Court’s recent school choice ruling will generate more debate and discussion on school vouchers next year, but that isn’t likely to persuade Kansas lawmakers to pass a voucher law, House Speaker Kent Glasscock (R-Manhattan) told The Topeka Capital-Journal. That’s because House members are reluctant to fund a new education program when the state already is having trouble funding public schools.
“Frankly, I think [school voucher bills] won’t have a good chance of passing unless there is a major change in the House,” Glasscock told the Capital-Journal.
State Senator Kay O’Connor (R-Olathe), a long-time voucher advocate, introduced a bill this year to establish a school voucher program in Kansas, but it died in committee. Although she said she planned to introduce additional voucher legislation as a result of the court decision, she was under no misapprehension as to the difficulty of getting a bill passed.
“The opposition is still very, very formidable,” she told the Kansas City Star.
Topeka Capital-Journal – June 27, 2002
Kansas City Star – June 28, 2002
Teacher Union Is Main Bar to Vouchers
Even though the Kentucky state constitution prohibits the use of any public funds or taxes “in aid of” any church, sectarian, or denominational school, that prohibition may not be as big a bar as the state teacher union to getting voucher legislation approved in the Blue Grass State.
The Kentucky Education Association “wields enormous power” in the state capitol, according to Linda B. Blackford, education writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The KEA was “a major force” in defeating two tuition tax credit bills introduced in 1998 and 2000.
Nevertheless, State Representative Bob Heleringer (R-Louisville), who sponsored the two bills, thinks the Supreme Court ruling has put new momentum into the school choice movement and could generate new legislation. A tax credit bill could be introduced as early as next January and garner more support, according to House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo.
“I think the opinion of the Supreme Court has started widespread interest, and I think this issue is going to resonate,” Heleringer told the Herald-Leader.
July 17, 2002
Louisiana Already Has Model Voucher Program
The Pelican State is a step ahead of other states in being ready to implement a voucher program based on the Cleveland scholarship program recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s because Louisiana launched a $3 million pilot school voucher program for preschoolers in New Orleans last year, using federal welfare money.
The program, created at the urging of Louisiana Catholic Conference lobbyist Kirby Ducote, gives qualified parents up to $4,700 a year to send their children to approved private preschool programs, including programs in religious institutions. A state-subsidized public school pre-kindergarten program was subsequently made available for parents who wanted a public school alternative.
Now may be the time to propose an expansion of the preschool program into grades K-12, suggested Representative Peppi Bruneau (R-New Orleans), who has introduced voucher legislation in the past, to no avail. Senate President John Hainkel (R-New Orleans) agreed, favoring a pilot expansion program in Orleans Parish as a first step.
“It has become readily apparent that our public school system has failed,” Hainkel told the Times-Picayune. “This city is suicidal if we can’t have a competitive effort.”
June 28, 2002
Voucher Bill Planned for Next Year
Many small towns in the Pine Tree State don’t have public schools and operate a “tuitioning” program to send local children to public and private schools. Since 1981, religious schools have been ineligible to participate in the program because of a state law forbidding the use of public funds to pay tuition at religious schools.
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that religious schools may be included in a parental choice program, Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe ruled education officials should continue to consider religious schools ineligible for participation “until the Legislature or the courts mandate otherwise.”
Republican State Representative Kevin Glynn, who has sponsored voucher and tax credit bills in the past, plans to introduce legislation to effect that change. Glynn is working with other legislators, educators, parents, and members of the Maine School Choice Coalition to draft “one quality piece of legislation” for the legislative session that begins next January.
“[The Supreme Court ruling] opened up a lot of avenues and opportunities for parents,” Glynn told the Bangor Daily News.
Bangor Daily News
July 17, 2002
Demand for Vouchers Is High, But No Supply Yet
Although Maryland voters have twice rejected the idea of aiding parochial schools, Baltimore Sun education writer Mike Bowler points out a slight majority of Americans favor vouchers, and two out of three African-Americans favor them. Bowler suggests it wouldn’t take many legislators from Baltimore, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County to get vouchers to the top of the legislature’s agenda.
That effort will be helped by the opening earlier this year of a Maryland branch of the pro-voucher Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).
“There’s a lot of work to do,” BAEO spokesman Boyce W. Slayman told Bowler. “We think we have a good shot in places like Baltimore, where people are fed up with public education.”
There’s certainly plenty of demand for vouchers in Baltimore. When the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) offered 400 scholarships to low-income students a few years ago, 20,000 students applied.
“We found huge and surprising demand in Baltimore,” said CSF national program director Rick Hough.
July 3, 2002
Gubernatorial Candidates Cool on Vouchers
The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling may have provided clarity on the constitutionality of school vouchers, but none of Massachusetts’ six gubernatorial candidates is taking a leadership role on the issue. In fact, even one-time voucher advocates on both sides of the aisle have backed away from actively supporting them in the upcoming election.
In his 1994 race against U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Republican Mitt Romney was a voucher advocate. But in the current race for governor his position has shifted: He supports vouchers philosophically, but rejects them as a component of his education plan for the Bay State. In Romney’s view, the state’s charter schools have pretty much provided the choice vouchers would have created.
“He’s not opposed to vouchers, but he doesn’t view it as a critical piece to repairing our public schools,” Romney campaign spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom told the Boston Globe.
None of the five Democratic candidates running in the September gubernatorial primary support vouchers, although one of them—Robert Reich—two years ago advocated a “progressive” voucher that would get larger as family income went down. He now opposes giving parents public funds to choose a private school.
June 28-29, 2002
Legislator: Grassroots Must Demand Change
While school choice supporters in Michigan hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling on vouchers, State Representative Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland) offered a realistic assessment of what needs to happen before parental choice legislation is likely to gain approval in the Wolverine State.
Kuipers, who is chairman of the House Education Committee, said the demand for change must come from the grassroots in a continuation of the civil rights struggle.
“If you remember back to the ’50s and ’60s, the fight was getting people access to schools,” Kuipers told the Detroit News. “That happened,” he continued. “Now, those same populations have to say, ‘You let us in. You’re not teaching us anything. You have to make it work.'”
Kuipers said he has no plans to introduce voucher legislation, a statement likely to disappoint voucher advocates like Choices for Children Chairwoman Betsy DeVos and Detroit Archbishop Adam Maida. However, Joseph Lehman, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said vouchers face too many political barriers in Michigan and suggested an alternative school choice effort involving tuition tax credits for parents and businesses.
June 28, 2002
Business Group Promotes Voucher Plan
School choice advocates in Minnesota are planning to push for vouchers in the state legislature despite acknowledging the odds of passage are low.
A voucher proposal sponsored by State Representative Tony Kielkucki (R-Lester Prairie) only got as far as a hearing earlier this year, but Kielkucki is excited about the prospects for legislation now that the U.S. Supreme Court has disposed of constitutional objections.
Kielkucki worked with the Minnesota Business Partnership in developing a voucher plan for students who qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. If those students attended a persistently low-performing public school, they would be eligible for a voucher worth up to $5,950 to enroll in a nonpublic school.
A 1996 voucher plan promoted by former Governor Arne Carlson was rejected by the legislature, but Carlson came back with an alternative plan for education tax credits and refundable deductions that did win passage. Kielkucki is considering an effort to expand that program further.
Both vouchers and expanded tax credits are needed, according to Morgan Brown, senior fellow for education policy at the Center of the American Experiment. In spite of opposition from the state teacher union, eventually “you’ll see vouchers,” Brown told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
June 28-29, 2002
Court Decision Boosts Voucher Efforts
Missouri school choice advocates gathered in Kansas City and St. Louis on June 27 to celebrate the boost the U.S. Supreme Court’s Cleveland voucher decision had given to their efforts. Mae Duggan, whose Citizens for Educational Freedom organization has been fighting for vouchers since 1959, hailed the decision at a rally in St. Louis as “the new birth of freedom in America” and predicted a growing demand for vouchers.
At a news conference in Kansas City, Betty Conley-Denton, who heads the Kansas City chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said publicly funded vouchers would not only help children but also improve urban education and the city. Vouchers, she declared, “are leveling the playing field for all.”
Kansas City Star – June 28, 2002
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – June 28, 2002
Schundler Renews Call for Vouchers
School vouchers have never gained traction in the New Jersey legislature, and even if lawmakers approved a voucher bill now, Democratic Governor James E. McGreevey would veto the measure.
Nevertheless, bolstered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling, former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler again took up his advocacy of a voucher program. Schundler lost the gubernatorial contest to McGreevey last fall.
Schundler’s proposal would offer $8,000 vouchers to students in 30 largely urban, poor school districts known as the Abbott districts. In Newark and in Jersey City, spending already has reached $16,000 per pupil annually, noted Schundler, yet fewer than half of public school ninth graders go on to graduate from high school.
June 28, 2002
Democratic Majority Stymies Voucher Efforts
For six years, Governor Gary Johnson and other Republican legislators have tried to get a voucher plan approved for New Mexico, but their efforts have always been stymied by the Democrats who dominate the state legislature. The U.S. Supreme Court decision didn’t change that Democratic majority and the general election in November isn’t likely to change it, either, although it will bring a new governor.
Republican gubernatorial candidate John Sanchez, a House member from Albuquerque who sponsored Johnson’s latest voucher plan, supports school vouchers. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, opposes them.
“School choice is not the ‘silver bullet’ of education reform,” Sanchez told the New Mexican, “but it is one way to give parents and children more and better opportunities to pursue a quality education.”
House Minority Leader Tedd Hobbs (R-Albuquerque) plans to continue supporting school choice, but he offered a realistic assessment of why New Mexicans shouldn’t expect to see vouchers soon.
“I’m pessimistic about [school choice] getting through as long as we have a Democratic majority that’s been fighting it constantly,” he told the Albuquerque Journal.
Albuquerque Journal – June 28, 2002
New Mexican – June 28, 2002
Vouchers Nixed for City, Unlikely for State
The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of school vouchers was handed down just a few days before New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was scheduled to take over the city’s schools on July 1. Bloomberg quickly rejected the idea of sharing some of his new power over the spending of billions of education dollars with the parents of the district’s 1,100,000 students.
“I’m not going to get involved in the voucher thing for the moment,” he declared to the Daily News.
The Supreme Court decision also isn’t likely to bring vouchers any time soon to parents living outside of New York City, since Democrats control the New York Assembly. Vouchers are at least a few years away, according to State Senator Dale Volker (R-Depew), a voucher supporter.
“[W]ith the present makeup of the State Legislature, I just don’t see it happening,” Volker told the Buffalo News.
Buffalo News – June 28, 2002
New York Daily News – June 29, 2002
Vouchers Will Require More than Court Ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on vouchers will generate more debate over vouchers in North Carolina, but the passage of a voucher bill will require a change in the makeup of the state legislature, according to Vernon Robinson, a school choice advocate who runs a privately funded scholarship program in Winston-Salem. He sees the school choice battle as “the civil rights issue of the twenty-first century.”
“Not only will the GOP have to take control of both the House and the Senate, but certain GOP incumbents will have to be replaced before you see enough support for vouchers,” Robinson told the News & Observer.
Raleigh News & Observer
June 28, 2002
Higher Voucher, More Grades Proposed for Cleveland
Ohio lawmakers have been reluctant to tamper with the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program while it was under litigation, but now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the initiative, legislative leaders are proposing changes to improve the program.
State Representative Jamie Callender (R-Willowick), chairman of the House Education Committee, wants the value of the voucher tied to the state’s annual guaranteed subsidy for all public school students, as is done for charter schools. The current subsidy is $4,814, more than double the maximum voucher amount of $2,250. Callender also wants the K-8 program to be expanded to cover all 12 grades, a view shared by Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Perry County).
“It’s silly for us to say you can only have an opportunity until the eighth grade, and then we basically force them to go back to an environment that didn’t work,” Householder told the Plain Dealer.
However, other Republicans, like Governor Bob Taft and State Senator Robert Gardner (R-Madison), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, want to see more data-based evidence that the six-year-old program works before expanding it to families in other low-performing districts.
June 28, 2002
Gubernatorial Candidates Oppose Vouchers
Oregon State Senator Charles Starr (R-Hillsboro), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, wants to introduce voucher legislation next year, but his plan faces many hurdles.
First, he has to win re-election; second, he has to get the legislature to approve his bill; and third, he has to get the governor’s signature on the bill. That last step may be his biggest hurdle because neither of the two principal gubernatorial candidates—Democrat Ted Kulongoski and Republican Kevin Mannix—supports vouchers.
“I will certainly be looking at legislation from other places and offering something that might help students now trapped in nonperforming schools,” Starr told the Oregonian. Starr and State Representative John Schoon (R-Rickreall) introduced a voucher bill for 25,000 students in 1995, but the measure died without getting to a vote.
Starr’s plan also would face opposition from the state teacher union. Courtney Vanderstek, assistant executive director of the Oregon Education Association, told the Oregonian that all of the union’s resources would be used to fight aggressively against any voucher legislation.
June 28, 2002
Vouchers Might Become More Iffy Next Year
“Our base is energized from the Supreme Court ruling,” voucher advocate Dennis Giorno told the Scranton Times. Giorno, executive director of the REACH Alliance, a pro-voucher grassroots group, added that another voucher proposal would most likely be seen this fall. In fact, the remaining few months of the year might offer the best chance for voucher legislation for the next few years.
The experience of the Keystone State illustrates the difficulties of getting voucher legislation signed into law. Republicans controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion in the latter half of the 1990s, yet tireless advocacy by Tom Ridge could not get voucher legislation passed when he was governor. Ridge finally settled for a limited number of private school scholarships funded by a corporate tax credit.
The prospects for vouchers in Pennsylvania are likely to be even less favorable next year, since the front-runner in the race for governor is opposed to vouchers.
While current Governor Mark Schweiker favors vouchers, he leaves office in January. Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Fisher favors vouchers, but Democratic hopeful Ed Rendell opposes them.
July 8, 2002
Vouchers Unlikely Any Time Soon
Opposition to vouchers runs “very deep” in Rhode Island, according to Bruce Daigle, program director of the Diocese of Providence’s Catholic School Office. While pleased with the U.S. Supreme Court’s voucher ruling, Daigle said it would take some time to overcome opposition, particularly given the power and influence of the teacher unions.
“[W]e have to change attitudes,” he told the Providence Journal. “We have to get people—and legislators in particular—to understand that educating children is more important than supporting the public school monopoly.”
June 28, 2002
Gubernatorial Candidates Differ on Vouchers
With concerns over the constitutionality of school vouchers now removed by the recent Supreme Court ruling, school choice supporters in South Carolina should press their case harder when lawmakers meet again in January, say the chairmen of both House and Senate education committees, Representative Ronny Townsend (R-Anderson) and Senator Warren Giese (R-Richland).
Voucher legislation in the past has “hit a stone wall” in the legislature, Giese told The State.
Governor Jim Hodges, a Democrat, opposes vouchers. His Republican challenger, Mark Sanford, supports them. Sanford has proposed a Florida-style program that would permit children in failing schools to use $3,500 “passports” to transfer to secular or religious private schools or to other public schools. An additional program would allow special-needs children to transfer to private schools.
The State – June 28, 2002
Charlotte Observer – June 28, 2002
Don’t Call for Vouchers Just Yet
A day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld school vouchers in Cleveland, families in Tennessee already were calling the state department of education to ask how they could sign up for vouchers in the Volunteer State.
A more pertinent question might have been to ask “When?” While the Supreme Court gave a green light to the creation of school choice plans, the Court didn’t give a red light to opponents of school choice.
“The decision didn’t say the teachers unions can’t lobby the legislature,” Jim Guthrie told the Tennessean. Guthrie is director of the Peabody Center for Education Policy at Vanderbilt University.
An official with the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) made it clear the union would mount a vigorous fight against vouchers. “If such a proposal is introduced at the state level, we will fight it with every resource available,” declared Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the TEA.
June 29, 2002
Democrat Proposes Pilot Plan
Saying “people are going to start demanding” more options, Texas State Representative Ron Wilson (D-Houston) said he plans to introduce legislation for a pilot voucher program next year, if re-elected. The current House Speaker, Democrat Pete Laney, is a strong opponent of vouchers, while Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), who hopes to unseat Laney, favors them.
Republican Governor Rick Perry supports the right of parents to have a choice in their child’s education; his challenger, Democrat Tony Sanchez, emphatically opposes school vouchers and said he would veto voucher bills that were sent to him for signature, if elected governor.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, where the winner will lead the Texas Senate, Democrat John Sharp opposes vouchers and Republican David Dewhurst supports choice in education “to help poor kids trapped in failing inner-city schools.” However, Dewhurst told the San Antonio Express-News he doesn’t support a “carte blanche system of vouchers.”
San Antonio Express-News
June 29, 2002
D.C. Delegate Supports “Choices,” Not “Choice”
“I strongly believe in choices and alternatives to the public schools,” declared D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton in a recent House debate on school vouchers. At the same time, she made clear she opposes the sort of choice a publicly funded voucher would provide to parents in the nation’s capital through a program proposed by House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Senator Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire).
The Armey-Gregg bill would provide vouchers worth up to $5,000 to at least 8,300 D.C. students from low-income families. Vouchers could be used at both secular and religious private schools. Similar legislation was approved by Congress in 1998, but it was subsequently vetoed by then-President Bill Clinton.
“Needy children in the District and across the country have waited long enough,” declared Armey.
Even with the help of a generous social promotion policy, only 50 percent of ninth graders in the District of Columbia’s public schools are expected to graduate. Average SAT scores in the system are 822, compared to a national average of 1020. A 1996 study concluded the longer a child stays in the city’s public schools, the worse off the child is academically.
The Washington Times
July 14, 2002