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Black Elected Leaders Call School Voucher Plan Racist


Local African-American elected officials Monday denounced as racist Proposition 174, the school voucher initiative on the November ballot, and vowed to spread that message throughout black communities, where the measure appears to have some level of support.

Lawmakers said that even though some African-American parents are disillusioned with the quality of their public schools, the voucher initiative will not help those who are poor or working class.

"This is simply an initiative to privatize public education and to make it OK to discriminate, whether on the basis of race, gender or physical handicap," Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rita Walters said.

Proposition 174 would profoundly change the way California spends its public education dollars by giving parents a $2,600 annual voucher to spend at the public, private or parochial school of their choice.

Any school with 25 or more students could redeem vouchers, a move that supporters say will open the door to more private school opportunities for all parents.

Sean Walsh, spokesman for the Yes on 174 campaign, said the show of force among African-American leadership confirms what his organization's polling has indicated: "There is broad discontent in minority communities with public schools. . . . We are seeing the opposition react strongly to try (to) stem the tide of minorities who support the initiative."

Initiative supporters said they are finding keen support for the measure in church-based meetings they have held in African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

"It's always easy to charge racism in a political campaign. It's hard to defend, creates a lot of attention and appeals to the emotions," said Andrew Cunningham, the Yes on 174 campaign's South-Central Los Angeles director. "But we are finding there is a lot of support out in the black community."

Walsh declined to release specifics about their poll findings. But a Field Poll conducted in mid-August showed that 44% of African-Americans and Latinos were opposed to the measure, 38% supported it and about 19% were undecided.

Both sides said Monday that the African-American and Latino vote in Los Angeles and San Diego could be critical if the election night tallies are tight.

The anti-voucher forces are forming school-based clusters of parents and school employee union members to pass along their campaign messages and to get out the vote. Voucher supporters are concentrating on parochial schools--attended by many Latinos--and African-American churches that potentially could run their own schools.

At their news conference at the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, about 12 African-American elected officials--including Assembly Democrats Gwen Moore and Marguerite Archie-Hudson and Los Angeles school board member Barbara Boudreaux--argued that even with vouchers, poor and minority children would be shut out by the high cost of many private schools.

Further, they argued, the measure would allow for the proliferation of unregulated and renegade schools in their communities.

Although tuition at some private schools--especially Catholic or other religious schools--are within the voucher range, most of the academically exclusive schools charge more than $10,000 a year.

Private schools, although not permitted under law to discriminate on the basis of race, can decline students on such grounds as academic ability or behavior. Private schools are under no obligation to keep youngsters they deem to be troublemakers or misfits. Teachers are not required to hold credentials, and the vast majority of academic regulations governing public schools do not apply to private schools.

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