On November 2, California voters vote on a voucher plan for tax aid to sectarian and other private schools, a plan about as nasty as the velociraptor dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg's popular film Jurassic Park. The plan is the most expensive and mas sive parochiaid scheme ever to get on the ballot in the U.S.
Although the proposed amendment to the state constitution — misleadingly called the Parental Choice in Education Initiative — was originally scheduled to go on the ballot in June of 1994, Gov. Pete Wilson rescheduled the election for November 2, 1993, pos sibly in an effort to avoid having it on the ballot with him next June during the Republican primary.
If passed, the voucher plan would provide about $2,600 per year, per student to nonpublic schools in the state. With more than 532,000 students in nonpublic schools in California, the cost of the plan would be about $1.38 billion per year, even if no othe r students transfer to nonpublic from public schools. Each transfer from a public to a nonpublic school would decrease state and local funding for public schools by about $5,200 per year.
But that is not all. The initiative provides that the state legislature may provide for transportation to voucher-supported schools, which, as nonpublic school, attendance areas are rarely as condensed as those of public schools. This means that bussing c osts could be astronomical, as they are now in such states as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In addition, the initiative provides that the value of each voucher (or "scholarship" as the initiative's authors call them in an effort to make them appear less objectionable) is to be "at least fifty percent the average amount of state and local government spending" for public education for grades K-12. This implies that the legislature could raise the value of vouchers to 75 percent, 90 percent, or even 100 percent of the cost per student of public education.
Where all this money is to come from if the initiative is passed is not clear. California has just had to deal with a $14 billion deficit. The funds for vouchers would undoubtedly come from California's already seriously underfunded public schools.
The voucher initiative is sponsored by a group called the Excellence Through Choice Education League (ETCEL). Religious right groups throughout the state support the initiative.
Opposing its passage is abroad-based coalition, the Committee to Educate Against Vouchers (CEAV). Americans for Religious Liberty (ARL), the California Teachers Association, and others are working to defeat the measure.
Among the many objectionable features of the voucher initiative, called a "real turkey" by the Sacramento Bee, are the following, which are based on an analysis of the wording of the initiative.
The California initiative, in short, is a deceptive scheme to wreck public education and undermine the American principle of separation of church and state.
Edd Doerr is executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty.