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Calif. Voucher Effort Stopped By Its Backers

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A campaign to place an education-voucher initiative on the 1982 California ballot has been disbanded for lack of support, one of the authors of the measure said last week.

John E. Coons, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and an organizer of a statewide effort to collect signatures on a petition to put the measure on the ballot, said the effort was dropped mainly because the private-school community failed to support it.

Mr. Coons and a Berkeley law colleague, Stephen Sugarman, wrote the measure. Mr. Coons said the financial support and endorsement from private-school interests had not been as strong as the authors had anticipated. The two had tried unsuccessfully to place a similar measure on the ballot in 1979, and Mr. Coons said they would begin a new strategy to gain support in 1984.

Creating New Schools

The proposal, which was described by the two professors in a 1979 book, Education by Choice, would create two "new" kinds of schools--"new" private schools and "new" public schools, according to Mr. Coons.

The voucher, which would be given directly to parents, would be worth 80 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure by California public schools. It would be redeemable only at the "new" schools, not at traditional public or private schools, he said.

If the proposal passed, "new" public schools could be created by boards of education whose members voted to transform the public-school system into a nonpublic corporation totally financed by vouchers.

Should public school officials decide to maintain the traditional structure of their school system, groups of parents, teachers,6and administrators could form "new" private schools that would be financed with vouchers, Mr. Coons said.

Both Schools Regulated

Both the public and private voucher schools would operate under two regulations, he said. Enrollments in both types of schools would be required to comprise at least 25 percent minority students. And although both could charge tuition above the amount of the voucher, neither could refuse low-income families who could not pay the full tuition.

"The vouchers would create public schools with the freedom of private schools. They would be as free from curriculum mandates as private schools are today in California, and they would be permitted to hire whatever teachers they thought best," said Mr. Coons.

He maintains that the system would create "four different options" among schools. "It gives the public schools a chance at deregulation and a wide variety of forms," Mr. Coons pointed out.

Supporters of Vouchers

He said that although the proposal has not gained wide support among private-school leaders in California, several prominent individuals have spoken out in favor of the measure. These include educators in Catholic, Lutheran, and independent schools, he said. In addition, he said public-school superintendents in Marin County and Contra Costa County are proponents of vouchers.

The voucher effort is opposed by most state education associations, with the California Teachers Association said to be the most vocal and well-financed threat to the voucher proposal. Officials of the teacher association were unavailable for comment.

Mr. Coons said the voucher supporters will now "do more groundwork" to prepare for 1984.

"People need to understand what this represents," he said. "Teachers imagine that this is an economic threat to them. It is [a threat] to bad teachers, but for good teachers it is an opportunity. Teachers could have a much larger share of what's being spent in the schools than they have today."

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