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Topic: Vouchers: Activity in the States
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Vouchers: Activity in the States
Posted: Aug 11, 1999 4:47 PM
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People For the American Way [PFAW]


Providing up-to-date information on local and national
education issues, right-wing attacks on public education,
progressive grassroots responses and important action alerts.

In this Issue:
(1) Voucher Activity in the States
(2) "Murderer on Staff of State-Funded Private School"
(3) Field Director's Corner


Since January, bills to route public dollars to private and sectarian
schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits were introduced in 40
states. Now that more than two-thirds of state legislatures have
adjourned for the year, we thought it was time to take a deep breath,
pause, and give you an overview of school voucher battles in state
legislatures around the country.

While we lost some tough battles in Florida and Illinois, we won
major victories in knock-down, drag-out battles with Republican
governors in Texas, Philadelphia and New Mexico.

Below you will find updates on some of the most closely watched
voucher/tuition tax credit battles in the country. Due to space
restrictions, we can't provide information on all state battles.

For more information, please contact the PFAW Field Department at

A voucher bill progressed through the Arizona House of Representatives
and a Senate committee only to die on the Senate floor, thanks in part
to the persistence of PFAW activists who called, wrote and emailed
their legislators to protest the bill. As it happened, every call and
every letter protesting the voucher bill turned out to be invaluable
pro-voucher legislators decided to set the bill aside only after they
realized that though they were close to having the necessary votes,
they would fall a few votes short.

Governor Jeb Bush's number one priority upon taking office this year
was to pass a statewide voucher program. PFAW activists, working
with the Coalition for Public Schools, participated in rallies and
urged their legislators to oppose voucher legislation. Despite a
strong show of public opposition, the Florida legislature passed the
nation's first statewide voucher plan - a plan that provides no
accountability and does not require that teachers be accredited or
that voucher schools meet basic curriculum standards. Needless to
say, PFAW Foundation, along with attorneys from other pro-public
education groups, is challenging the plan in court.

The battle in Illinois this year was over private school tuition tax
credit legislation. Last session, the legislature passed identical
legislation that would give tuition tax credits for private and
religious school costs, but former Governor Jim Edgar vetoed the
bill. This year, despite the best efforts of PFAW activists and our
public education allies, the private school tax credit bill was once
again approved by the Illinois legislature and Governor George Ryan
signed it into law.

Right-wing legislators in Louisiana introduced two voucher bills this
year. PFAW activists rallied in protest, and working with pro-public
education allies, voiced their opposition to the bills. Happily,
Louisiana legislators recognized a bad idea when they saw one - one
of the voucher bills died in committee, the other was tabled on the
Senate floor, where it was set aside without debate.

Governor Gary Johnson and his Religious Right allies pulled out all
the stops in their efforts to pass voucher legislation in New Mexico
this year. After twice vetoing the state education budget because it
did not contain a voucher provision, Governor Johnson organized a
statewide pro-voucher campaign and called a special legislative
session on vouchers. PFAW activists contact-ed their legislators
and turned out for a public hearing to urge their representatives to
vote against the governor's voucher proposal. In a resounding
victory for public education, the New Mexico Legislature defeated
the proposed voucher program by a vote of 50-20 in the House and
29-11 in the Senate.

This spring, as the New York City Council and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
wrangled over school vouchers, PFAW activists rallied behind the City
Council and its stance against vouchers. Activists attended a teach-
in sponsored by the Emergency Coalition Against Vouchers and called
the mayor to tell him that public dollars should be for public
schools. Their hard work paid off as Mayor Giuliani ultimately
backed away from his voucher plan.

Since taking office in 1994, Governor Tom Ridge has tried to force
vouchers on the children and families of Pennsylvania. This year,
true to form, Ridge introduced two separate legislative proposals,
each of which would create voucher programs in Pennsylvania. PFAW
activists and their pro-public education allies in Pennsylvania
responded by organizing a protest rally, calling the governor and
their legislators, writing letters and sending email. Ridge devoted
considerable time and resources to passing a voucher plan, but
finally conceded defeat in the wee hours of the morning after the
legislature recessed for the summer. The legislature's rejection
of Ridge's voucher plan is a major victory for public education and
hopefully the starting point for a much-needed new discussion of
education reforms that would strengthen and improve our public

Proponents of school vouchers in Texas, determined to get their hands
on public tax dollars for private and religious education, funnelled
millions of dollars into campaign contributions and a public
relations campaign this past year. Undaunted, PFAW activists and
Texas allies, including the Texas Freedom Network, turned out for
several pro-public education lobby days and legislative briefings
and contacted their legislators through letters, phone calls and
email. When the session finally came to a close, the pro-public
education activists had achieved an amazing accomplishment: despite
the grim forecast at the outset of the session, voucher legislation
never even made it to the floor of either the Senate or the House.

PFAW activists in Wisconsin are currently working with a coalition of
pro-public education officials and organizations to pass state
legislation that would reform the voucher program in Milwaukee and
improve Milwaukee's public schools. This new legislation consists of
three key proposals: 1. Hold voucher schools to the same level of
accountability as public schools; 2. Expand SAGE, a public school
program that works to raise student performance by reducing class
size; 3. Change the way the voucher program is funded so that
Milwaukee Public Schools does not have to bear the financial burden
of sending students to private and religious schools.

Following a successful May rally and lobby day attended by PFAW
activists, two of our proposals (the latter two) were included in the
Wisconsin state budget by the Joint Finance Committee. The budget is
now in the final stages of consideration. **IF YOU LIVE IN WISCONSIN,


No, we didn't make up that headline - it appeared on the front
page of Cleveland's Plain Dealer on July 1. The article exposed
horrifying conditions in a Cleveland private school receiving tax
payer dollars in the form of vouchers. According to the article,
"children attended classes in a 110-year-old building with no fire
alarm, no sprinkler system, broken windows and potentially brain-
damaging lead paint flaking from the walls." And unbelievably, the
school is "staffed mostly by unlicensed teachers, including a
convicted murderer."

The story illustrates a major problem with voucher programs -
there is no accountability to parents or taxpayers. The Ohio
Department of Education has, in fact, paid $1 million in vouchers to
five Cleveland private schools, without considering test scores,
hiring practices or building safety. PFAWF has called on Ohio state
officials to take immediate action to assure that all Cleveland
children are safe.

In May, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down Cleveland's voucher program
because it was established as part of the state budget, instead of as
a freestanding piece of legislation. In response, Ohio legislators
introduced a second voucher bill, smuggling it into the education
budget, a move that suggests that voucher proponents would not have
the votes to pass a freestanding voucher bill. This new bill passed
in June and reinstated Cleveland's voucher program. PFAW and other
pro-public education groups will challenge the program in court.

Courts in Maine and Vermont also recently struck down efforts to give
taxpayer dollars to religious schools. For more info:


I'd like to tell you about several PFAW resources I believe you will
find useful and informative in your efforts to support public

The report, "Privatization of Public Education: A Joint Venture of
Charity and Power," exposes the interlocking goals, leadership, and
strategies of allied organizations such as the Children's Scholarship
Fund, CEO America, and a network of statewide and local groups to
turn public education money over to private schools and

A second report, "Grand Illusions: A Look at Who Backs School
Vouchers, Who Profits, and the Dismal Performance of Vouchers to
Date," documents the poor performance and damaging impact of the
nation's two current school voucher experiments in Milwaukee and

Both reports are available online:

Or call 800/326-7329 to request a copy.

Mary Jean Collins
National Field Director

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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