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Latino Coalition to Oppose School Voucher Initiative


Calling it "a grave danger to our children," a group of Latino community leaders said Friday they are launching a grass-roots campaign to defeat Proposition 174, the school voucher initiative on the November ballot.

Using telephone pitches, door-to-door canvassing and a series of community meetings, the group will try to counter plans by pro-voucher forces to target Latinos for support. The measure would allow parents to use tax-funded vouchers worth $2,600 to help send their children to private or parochial schools.

"We're launching a statewide effort in the Latino communities to defeat this initiative, which would bring a nightmare to our public education system," said Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles). "It represents a grave danger to California's future" because it would siphon money from the state's overburdened public schools, he said.

Voucher backers say there is strong support for the measure among Latino parents, many of whom would like to send their children to Catholic schools, but cannot afford tuition costs.

"The Latino population in this state will be one of the largest benefactors under our initiative and we expect them to vote for us en masse," said Sean Walsh, spokesman for the Proposition 174 campaign.

A Los Angeles Times poll two weeks ago showed Latinos across the state opposing the measure by a slight margin, with 41% against and 35% in favor.

At Friday's news conference outside Garfield High School, Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Rosemead) accused the voucher campaign of resorting to tokenism by finding "one black or one Latino person who has been failed by the (public school) system and parading them around" to generate support.

The Latino coalition, Citizens Against Proposition 174, which includes elected officials and union leaders--will host community meetings in Spanish to explain the initiative, then mount a get-out-the-vote drive as Election Day nears.

"So far, our phone bank has contacted 2,500 Latino registered voters and about 61% of them say they're going to vote no" on the voucher initiative, said Conrado Terrazas, one of the group's organizers. "We'll target those people and get them to the polls, and focus our education efforts on the others."

The telephone calls will continue until the election and next month volunteers will begin canvassing homes on the heavily Latino Eastside, he said.

Los Angeles school board President Leticia Quezada said she hopes the show of opposition by Latino leaders--including Assemblywoman Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), Councilman Mike Hernandez and Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles)--will persuade Latino voters to vote against the measure.

If the voucher initiative passes, Quezada said, it will force cutbacks in public school spending on transportation, security and classroom supplies. "For poor and minority children, it would mean the end of an opportunity to an equal education," she said.

But voucher supporters counter that the measure would give low-income parents the same opportunity that wealthier parents have to remove their children from inadequate public schools and enroll them in private or parochial schools.

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