In this Issue: (1) Voucher Activity in the States (2) "Murderer on Staff of State-Funded Private School" (3) Field Director's Corner ____________________________________________________
(1) VOUCHER ACTIVITY IN THE STATES
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 800/326-7329.
ARIZONA 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.
FLORIDA 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.
ILLINOIS 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.
LOUISIANA 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.
NEW MEXICO 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.
NEW YORK 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.
PENNSYLVANIA 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 schools.
TEXAS 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.
WISCONSIN 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, PLEASE CONTINUE TO CALL AND WRITE YOUR LEGISLATORS IN SUPPORT OF THESE BUDGET PROPOSALS AND IN OPPOSITION TO VOUCHERS.** _____________________________________________________
(2) "MURDERER ON STAFF OF STATE-FUNDED PRIVATE SCHOOL"
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 education.
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 entrepreneurs.
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 Cleveland.
**************************************************** * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: email@example.com