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Teachers Fight Voucher at Work, Group Claims : Election: Initiative backers call on state to investigate. But others defend the right of educators to speak out.

September 24, 1993|HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing alleged improprieties at public schools across California, including three in the San Fernando Valley, proponents of the school voucher initiative Thursday called on the state attorney general to investigate reports that public schoolteachers are campaigning against the measure during class time.

The Yes on 174 campaign accused opponents of using school equipment and class time to photocopy and distribute literature, air videos and hold discussions against Proposition 174, the ballot initiative that would allow parents to use tax-funded vouchers worth $2,600 annually to send children to private and parochial institutions.

Advocates called on Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren to investigate such activities, which they say violate laws prohibiting the use of public funds for campaign purposes. There was no word if an investigation would be launched.

Campaign leaders listed at least 18 examples of "illegally spent" taxpayer funds to try to defeat the initiative, from teachers stuffing campaign materials into student knapsacks during class to airing videos.

"The materials are pure, unadulterated campaign rhetoric," said Sean Walsh, a spokesman for the Yes on 174 campaign.

The examples included three Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools: Germain Street in Chatsworth, Lockhurst Drive in Woodland Hills and Mayall Street in North Hills. School officials could not be reached for comment.

Opponents of the initiative called the accusations "absurd."

"They want the attorney general of our state to use more of our tax dollars to conduct political witch hunts against public schoolteachers who have dared to speak out against this costly, harmful proposal," Charity Webb, president of the California School Boards Assn., said in a statement.

An attorney for the Yes on 174 campaign also criticized acting state schools Supt. William Dawson for issuing press releases "berating" the initiative and directing people to contact state employees for information. A spokesman for Dawson countered that as a constitutional officer, the superintendent has as much right as the governor or attorney general to endorse or oppose candidates and ballot measures.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in San Francisco on Thursday, Dawson said an opinion by state Auditor General Kurt Sjoberg held that the state will have no fiscal control over use of the vouchers by private schools.

"The implications for unchecked misuse of public funds are devastating," Dawson said in a statement.

The auditor general's office has the authority to audit state agencies and their contractors. However, Sjoberg said private schools that redeem vouchers would fit neither definition.

Conservative taxpayer groups that endorsed the initiative at a Capitol news conference said they believe voucher schools would be held accountable by parents and by competition. "I think the marketplace will determine the accountability," said Lewis Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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