The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll claims the public rejects - by 61 percent to 36 percent - letting students and their parents attend a private educational institution at public expense. Fifty-four percent oppose a system that would allow parents to use government vouchers to pay all or part of the tuition at public, private or church-related schools.
In the past three decades, at least 19 states have offered ballot initiatives on public aid to private schools, but all were rejected except a textbook loan program in South Dakota. Voucher systems have been tested in Cleveland and Milwaukee, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked the Milwaukee plan's expansion because of questions about aid to religious schools.
President Clinton supports "school choice," encompassing specialized institutions and other versions of choice within public schools. But he opposes vouchers. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley says vouchers represent "a retreat from public education, a way to divert tax dollars."
The 1988 Berman report in Hawaii also recommended "school choice" to provide an element of competition in education within the public system, but did not call for inclusion of private schools. The Hawaii State Teachers Association can be expected to oppose any move to provide tax vouchers to parents who want to take their kids out of public schools, as its parent, the National Education Association, has done on a larger scale.
While a broad tax voucher program probably is not feasible at this time either politically or economically, more pilot programs could be launched. Only after reviewing such experiments can the public learn whether Secretary Riley's fears are justified.
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