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Minn. May Consider School-Vouchers Scheme

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The state chiefs and university presidents were careful not to overlook the earliest years of schooling.

"If a solid academic foundation is not in place, students will be chronically behind; high-school teachers will be forced to spend their time on remedial education and, in frustration, they will leave; and colleges will continue to be caught in an unending process of remediation," according to Mr. Boyer.

"The foundations are built in the early years--and the middle, junior-high years are often the most complex and difficult for teacher and student," said Mr. Shedd of Connecticut.

By Charlie Euchner

A legislator close to Gov. Rudy Perpich will introduce legislation later this month to establish an education-voucher system for low-income families in Minnesota.

The bill, sponsored by Representative John E. Brandl, would allow families to use the state's average $1,475-per-pupil expenditure to attend any public or private school in Minnesota. The state would also provide free transportation within a district's borders.

Assemblywoman Marion Bergeson of California last week introduced a similar bill in that state's legislature, but she said it has little chance of passing. "It's mainly to serve as a catalyst for discussion," she said.

Lower-Income Limit

The crucial part of the Minnesota legislation, Mr. Brandl said last week, is the provision that limits the program to lower-income families. The legislature's "revisor's office" is writing a means test to accompany the bill's proposed income limit of $15,000 for a family of four.

"The basic notion is to set aside the traditional argument that [vouchers] skim off the best kids and put them in private schools," Mr. Brandl said. "I've always said that I would not support a voucher scheme that facilitated segregation by class or race."

Mr. Brandl said he had not decided whether to include elementary- and middle-school students as well as high-school students in the program.

David Hunt, a research assistant for the Citizens League, a state group that has long advocated voucher systems, said aides to Governor Perpich had a "positive" reac-tion to the idea in meetings. Mr. Brandl's close association with the Governor will help the bill's chances of passage, he predicted.

Mr. Brandl, the assistant majority leader in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, said he was confident of conservative support for the bill and was concentrating on gathering support among the liberal groups that traditionally have opposed vouchers.

The president of the Minneapolis Urban League, Gleason Glover, has endorsed the bill. He said it would give families who live in poor areas the "choice" they need to find good schools.

Donald Hill, president of the Minnesota Education Association (mea), said he would oppose the bill because it would encourage schools with many poor students to "let these students go" and to cut special programs for them.

The "inspiration" for the proposal, Mr. Brandl said, was an article by Albert Shanker in which the American Federation of Teachers president said he would support vouchers for students whose academic performance is poor.

But Mr. Shanker said last week that he would not support Mr. Brandl. "I would have an experiment in one or two places before you upset an entire statewide system," he said. "Income has nothing to do with it. I think [vouchers should be offered to] the total failures."

'Greater Separation'

Lawrence A. Uzzell, the president of Learn Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes vouchers and tuition tax credits, said the plan's emphasis on giving lower-income students a choice of schools would "lay bare the claim that vouchers would lead to a greater separation of the races."

Mr. Uzzell said a limited voucher plan could lead to later consideration of a program to include all students.

"Vouchers are a very fundamental change, and we have a system biased against radical changes," he said. "These changes are going to take place step by step, with debate about the results at each step."

Assemblywoman Burgeson's bill would allow students who score in the lowest quartile on California Assessment Program tests to use vouchers to attend any public school in their district. If there were no "appropriate" public schools, the students would be permitted to use the vouchers for private schools.

'Serve These Students'

Ms. Burgeson, a Republican, said that she is "not a supporter of vouchers per se," but that "we have to see how we can serve these students."

A California group called "Parents Choose Quality Education" is organizing to put an initiative on the ballot in 1984 for a statewide voucher system. A similar attempt failed in 1978.

The effort--which is being directed by former aides to Ronald Reagan and Edmund G. Brown Jr.--will require 750,000 signatures. Roger Magyers, one of the organization's directors, said he is "extremely optimistic" about the chances for getting the proposition on the ballot.

A 1981 Gallup Poll found that a plurality of 43 percent of the public favored a voucher system. It was the first time since the question was asked in 1970 that the idea found more support than opposition. Young adults and minority groups were its strongest proponents.

Another nationwide Gallup survey taken last fall found that 45 percent of public-school parents would transfer their children from the public system if given the opportunity.

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