2 States Reject Measures Allowing Aid to Private Schools
Referendums that would have modified state constitutions to allow aid to private schools and their students were easily defeated in California and Massachusetts last week, but certain forms of aid will still be permitted in the two states.
The California proposition would have allowed the state to lend textbooks to private schools; the Massachussetts measure would have stricken language from the state constitution prohibiting the state from aiding or maintaining private schools.
California's Proposition 9 failed by 61 percent to 39 percent of the vote, while Question 1 in Massachusetts lost by 62 percent to 38 percent.
Defeat of the measures does not abolish the states' aid to private schools. The Massachussetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that programs for transportation, health, special education, and school lunches for private-school students are permissible since they are aimed at protecting physical health and safety rather than at supplementing school budgets.
The contest in California was overshadowed by 14 other propositions on the ballot, but both sides mounted vigorous last-minute campaigns. The proponents of Proposition 9 spent $550,000 in the campaign, much of it on television advertising just before election day. The opponents spent $7,500, including $5,000 in the last week of the campaign.
Forty-five states provide private schools with at least one "auxiliary service" such as textbooks and other instructional materials, health services, special education, and transportation, according to a survey by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states may aid private schools if such aid has a secular purpose, does not advance or inhibit religion, and does not "foster an ex-cessive government entanglement with religion."
Private-school leaders in California and Massachusetts said they were merely trying to bring state constitutions in line with that ruling.
Opponents said it was important to stem what they said was the federal judiciary's growing acceptance of state aid to private schools. They also said the measures would have further weakened public-school systems, which have suffered a drain in funds in recent years because of property-tax-limitation measures in both states.
"What would happen is that private schools would come back looking for more. The next time it would be computer equipment or lab equipment," said Skip Daum, chairman of the "No on 9" committee in California. "When do you draw the line? If the electorate doesn't draw the line here, they'll be back for more."
A California education-department official said the textbook program would have cost the state's education department about $6 million per year, since the program would have given textbooks to the private schools for the life of the books.
A similar loan program in Massachusetts would have cost $7 million, according to a spokesman for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
"Administratively, to take them back and forth every year wouldn't be practical," said Francine Alexander, a curriculum and instructional-materials consultant for the state department of education. "The books were, in effect, loaned for a six-year period, which was expected to be the life of the books."
Opponents of Proposition 9 said the measure would have guaranteed that private schools received more in textbook aid than public schools.
California provides funds for public-school students in grades kindergarten through 8, but local districts are responsible for buying books for high-school students. The proposition, however, would have guaranteed textbooks for private-school students in all grades.
An earlier California law extending free textbooks to private schools was ruled illegal by the state Supreme Court in 1980 after operating for seven years. The court said the aid was in violation of a state constitutional provision against state aid to private education.
In the aborted book-loan program, private schools in California were given credits for each student enrolled, and the schools could then order books from a list of state-approved texts. Because of a six-year turnover in book lists, the books were almost never returned, according to California officials.
The defeated proposition did not specify what form the library-loan program would take, but Ms. Alexander and others said a new version of the old program was most likely.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1978 that textbook-loan programs were inadmissible under the state constitution, but in that decision the court said that programs that concern the health and security of private-school students are legal.
State Senator Gerald D'Amico said he pushed the ballot question to clear up legal questions about the state's programs of aid to private schools. In the past two years, such programs have been challenged in the courts with increasing frequency.
An aide to Mr. D'Amico said the senator was not disappointed by the amendment's defeat. "Senator D'Amico was just intent on presenting the resolution to the voters to see what they think," said Emily D. Lunceford.ce