Wednesday, August 28, 1996

Vouchers may be good idea
at bad time

BOB Dole's support of tax-backed coupons that parents could use to send children to public, private or parochial schools of their choice is not as popular as might be expected. Maybe the timing is bad because of the national budget deficit, and concerns that vouchers on top of a proposed 15 percent across-the-board tax cut would result in economic disaster. But the issue of school choice is not likely to disappear.

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.

At the convention

TWO wheel-chair bound speakers made their powerful presence felt - and their respective messages clear - on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While the GOP had used its own members to extol its virtues, the Dems asked gun-control advocates James and Sarah Brady, and actor Christopher Reeve, to remind the public of long-held Democratic ideals.

Tiger Woods turns pro

PRODUCT manufacturers are drooling as never before following the declaration by Stanford University student Tiger Woods that he will become a professional golfer. Despite poor showings as an amateur competing in pro tournaments in the past two years, Woods seems destined for greatness on the links and for riches surpassing those of any other golfer. Prepare for an unparalleled advertising blitz.

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