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Educators Group Calls School Voucher Ballot Proposal 'Evil'


SACRAMENTO — A coalition of education organizations and state employee groups Tuesday attacked a school voucher initiative proposed for the November ballot as an "evil" measure that would destroy the public schools.

The initiative would provide state scholarships or vouchers, initially worth at least $2,500, for every school-age child. The money could be used to pay private or parochial school tuition.

Supporters say the measure would provide middle- and lower-income families with the same choice of sending their children to private schools that now is available to the wealthy.

But Davis Campbell, executive director of the California School Boards Assn., one of nine organizations sponsoring Tuesday's news conference, denounced the initiative as a "fraud," saying "it is intended to subsidize private schools and nothing more."

Del Weber, president of the 230,000-member California Teachers Assn., called the measure "evil" because it would not require private schools to accept low-income students or those with physical handicaps and other disabilities.

"The net result (will be) a large number of youngsters--perhaps 25% to 40%--for whom no school will be left, who will be 'throwaway kids.' We call that evil," Weber said.

Noting that new "scholarship schools" could be started with as few as 25 students, Weber warned that "storefront schools will be popping up anywhere and everywhere, teaching God knows what," including the religious doctrines of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church or the white supremacy views of Republican presidential candidate David Duke.

Several opponents said the newly enriched private schools would be immune from the state's earthquake safety laws and from many other health and safety requirements and that their teachers would not be credentialed.

Later, David J. Harmer, president of the Excellence Through Choice in Education League, sponsors of the initiative, defended the school choice proposal. "Certification is just a means to an end and that's ensuring qualified teachers," Harmer said. "We think a better means to the end is empowering parents to determine whether or not the schools are doing the job."

Campaign consultant Gary Huckaby said "a whole new array of schools (will) crop up to take care of kids who have problems, the so-called throwaway children. . . . There's a market out there at $2,500 per kid."

As for the specter of white supremacy schools and the like, Harmer said, "there are private schools now and you don't see David Duke academies or Ku Klux Klan academies. . . . Are the educrats saying that only poor people are fools enough to fall for that? That's a phenomenally elitist argument with which we fervently disagree."

Huckaby said 51,000 petition signatures have been obtained in the first two weeks of the campaign. The group, which must have 619,000 valid signatures by the end of April, plans to spend more than $1 million to collect them.

Weber said the teachers' organization spent $7 million on Propositions 71 and 98 four years ago and probably will spend that much to try to defeat the voucher initiative.

In addition to the CTA, the school boards association and Californians for Community Colleges, groups opposing the measure included the Assn. of California School Administrators, the California Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO), the California School Employees Assn., the California State PTA, the Service Employees International Union and United Teachers-Los Angeles.

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