- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000


School choice opponents were making premature predictions of their own on Wednesday. With defeats of state voucher proposals in Michigan and California, National Education Association chief Bob Chase, among others, declared the voucher issue dead to voters. All this celebrating, however, is premature.
In Florida, a race for the state commissioner on education was won by former State Sen. Charlie Crist, who made Florida's school choice program his platform. His opponent vowed to discontinue Gov. Jeb Bush's Straight A's voucher program, which enforces strict accountability for failing schools. This year, thanks to the rigorous new standards, not a single public school was deemed failing.
In Washington state, with absentee ballots still being counted, it appeared the proposal to allow charter schools there would be only narrowly defeated. Voters came out 52 percent against, and 48 percent for the initiative, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Such a strong show in favor of an initiative that would allow 80 public schools to be free from state rules indicates growing public support for school choice.
Defeats of expensive, complicated voucher initiatives in Michigan and California said less about voter attitudes toward school choice than the place such complex, drastic ideas should have on state ballots. Unlike successful voucher programs operating in Pensacola, Milwaukee and Cleveland, the California initiative would have provided $4,000 vouchers to any student in kindergarten to 12th grade wanting to go to private school even children of wealthy parents.
In Michigan, the voucher measure had so many stipulations that even the well-informed would have found it hard to know which way to vote. The proposal would have let students use $3,300 in tuition vouchers, if and only if they wanted to attend nonpublic schools, were students in the seven districts with a graduation rate under two-thirds in 1998-1999 and were in a district approving tuition vouchers through a school board or public vote. Such a proposal likely raises more questions than it answers.
Major victories in the nation's courts for school choice programs in Florida, Cleveland, Arizona and Milwaukee have created an appropriate barometer to assess the progress of school choice. Legislative measures creating programs like the one in Florida also serve as a more effective means than the ballot for pioneering new school choice programs. Is school choice dead? Not until the thousands of American students now using vouchers stop thriving.

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