THE SCHOOL CHOICE MOVEMENT
But the study's critics say Peterson failed to take into account differences in family background, and based his conclusions on a small sampling. The Milwaukee program's critics also cite the fact that 4 out of about 16 private schools went out of business, as evidence that a market-oriented education system won't work.
Former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and American Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker debate the school choice and other reforms.
Education Secretary Richard Riley and William Bennett discuss the politics of education reform.
Bob Dole expresses his support of school vouchers in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
Clinton discusses his views on education reform while addressing the graduating class at Princeton University.
The American Federation of Teachers is working to limit the school vouchers movement.
The Center for Education Reform continues to work for a broader voucher system.
The National Education Association, the largest teacher's union in the country is vehemently opposed to any public support of private schools.
Private school vouchers, a priority of top Republican leaders, are being scrutinized for evidence that they could be the answer to America's educational system woes. Advocates say vouchers will give poor children the same educational opportunities as more affluent families, the competition will force public schools to improve, and children will be able to choose schools free from violence. Critics argue that money diverted to private schools will mean fewer dollars for cash-strapped public schools, and that the line between Church and State will blur as state dollars are used to support religion.
Many federal and state lawmakers are pushing for vouchers, but voters in various states such as Oregon and California have turned down voucher proposals. Each state has regulations that must be waived in order to set up a voucher experiment. Only two plans are in full-fledged operation: Milwaukee, WI and Cleveland, OH. Studies of the widely publicized Milwaukee program have been used by both sides as evidence for their arguments. In March, Senate Democrats halted, for the fourth time, a plan giving poor Washington D.C. students vouchers to attend more desireable private schools.
In that study, 1,500 low-income students are using vouchers of up to $3,600 a year to attend 15 private, non-religious schools. A qualifying family of four has an income under $26,513 a year. A Wisconsin court is currently deciding whether poor Milwaukee children can use the vouchers for religious schools. A study released in August 1996 found that "students enrolled in choice schools for three or more years substantially out performed, on average, a comparable group of students attending Milwaukee public schools." The study's author, Paul Peterson of Harvard University, went on to predict programs modeled after Milwaukee could close the gap separating white and minority test scores by one-third to one-half.
As the November 5th election approaches, political debate on the issue of school choice has heat up. Lamar Alexander, former Tennessee Governor, Secretary of Education, and Republican Presidential aspirant has likened the lack of school choice to the Berlin Wall, saying it is a domestic social policy that is "all going to come down."
Bob Dole announced his support for school choice in his San Diego acceptance speech, saying:
" I plan to enrich your vocabulary with those words you fear -- school choice and competition and opportunity scholarships -- all this for low and middle income families so that you will join the rest of us in accountablity, while others compete with you for the commendable privilege of giving our children real education. There is no reason why those who live on any street in America should not have the same right as the person who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- the right to send your child to the school of your choice."Democrats have generally come out against school voucher programs. President Clinton has also voiced opposition to the proposal, saying it would divert funds away from public education. He has been joined by various teachers' unions. The National Education Association have said, "Despite the fact that the American people clearly do not want their taxes given to private schools, the critics of public education continue to put forward voucher proposals and initiatives in state after state, as well as in Congress. Vouchers are little more than a thinly disguised attempt to destroy our country's public schools. They represent a real threat to America's commitment to educate all young people. "