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January 03, 2001

Orange County Register — School voucher idea down, not out:

Despite being wiped out at the polls in Michigan and California last month, the school voucher solution to troubled public schools has not disappeared. It's true that statewide, public-funded voucher programs — such as those voters rejected — probably won't be tested again for some time, perhaps a decade.

But new ideas keep bubbling up. One now being advanced is the ‘‘Put Parents in Charge'' campaign by the Campaign for America's Children, a group started in New York City by financier Ted Forstmann.

Since October, it has been spending $20 million to put out TV and newspaper ads touting school (tax relief) options for parents. … The bipartisan board of advisers includes Joseph Califano, secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Jimmy Carter, former Reagan Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1996 vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and Sen. John McCain.

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The TV ad ‘‘No Longer'' features people from a mosaic of ethnic groups talking so that their phrases overlap: ‘‘I will no longer be a silent witness to my own kids' education … I will no longer sit and watch the system fail my children … I will no longer let them use my tax dollars to tell me where to send my kids to school … I will no longer let them put the system's needs above my kids' needs.

President-elect George W. Bush promised during his campaign to advance federal vouchers for children stuck in the worst schools. As much as we like school choice, we would prefer that the feds not get involved in state and local matters.

For now, the most promising ways to help parents get out of public schools are private vouchers such as those advanced by Mr. Forstmann and lower taxes so parents themselves will have the means to put their children in better schools.

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