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Republicans Divided on Voucher Issue : Politics: Despite the GOP support of the initiative, members who oppose Proposition 174 hold a news conference at party's state convention in Anaheim.


ANAHEIM — Opponents of the school voucher initiative held a news conference at the state Republican convention in Anaheim on Friday, hoping to demonstrate that you can be a good Republican and still be against Proposition 174.

The fight over the school voucher initiative on the November ballot has been portrayed as one between conservative supporters and liberal opponents. The state Republican Party passed a resolution in support of the plan at its meeting last spring.

But recent polls have found that the issue actually does not split along partisan lines and that Republican voters are divided about the idea.

So opponents sought to drive home that message Friday by highlighting a group of Republican officials who believe Proposition 174 is too costly, too risky and not a proper use of taxpayer money.

"We want Californians to know that opposition to Proposition 174 crosses political boundaries," said Assemblyman Chuck Quackenbush (R-Cupertino). "There are particular reasons why Republicans and fiscal conservatives should be afraid of this costly, poorly drafted measure."

Proposition 174, which will be considered by voters at the Nov. 2 special election, would provide parents of school-age children with a voucher worth about $2,600 that could be redeemed at any public or private school.

The measure's supporters contend that it would allow students in poor schools with a means to escape and it would also provide an incentive for schools to improve through competition.

But the speakers at the news conference Friday said the measure would violate several issues that Republican hold dear, such as small and inexpensive government.

Quackenbush charged that the plan would trigger an immediate 10% reduction in state funds available for public schools since those resources would have to be shared with students already in private schools. Since a reduction of that size could not be sustained, he predicted the Legislature would be under pressure to raise taxes.

"There would be an overwhelming push for a tax increase," he said. "That is one of my greatest concerns."

The opponents also said part of the perception that Proposition 174 is a conservative Republican issue stems from the support of former Presidents Reagan and Bush for school choice, a concept that would not force students into school districts.

But Peter Mehas, Bush's appointee to the National Education Commission, said there is widespread support for school choice, but not for the voucher funding mechanism in Proposition 174.

"I readily accepted President Bush's school choice plan," he said. "When I look at Proposition 174, there is no comparison. I have never seen a more poorly written bill that cannot be fixed if it was passed."

Ken Khachigian, a Republican political consultant heading the campaign in favor of Proposition 174, responded in a letter that "school choice does not take one nickel from the public schools. . . . You know that, and for you to repeat the Big Lie of union bosses and their Democratic handmaidens is outrageous."

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