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Voucher Bill Re-Emerges in the Illinois Legislature

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Legislation creating a voucher program to cover some of the expenses incurred by parents of children in both private and public schools is moving again in the Illinois House.

As it did in 1989, the House Executive Committee last month approved a voucher bill.

A key element of the bill would require that the state earmark for the voucher program all new money that it allocates for education. The funds would then be distributed directly to the schools chosen by parents of eligible children.

If the program had been in effect for the current year--the first year of a two-year income-tax hike--the vouchers would have been worth $120 per student, supporters said. Given tight budget constraints this year, however, the estimated value of the vouchers could be as little as $20 per student next year.

"It would be a start, and every year it would grow more," said Representative Robert J. Bugielski, a Chicago Democrat who is the chief sponsor of the bill.

The measure also would allow parents to enroll their child in any public school in the district in which they reside. If they transferred to another district, the voucher would help them defray the tuition that districts typically charge nonresidents.

Most public-education groups are vehemently opposed to the bill.

Critics argue that the revenues that would be used for vouchers are already badly needed by school districts, 20 percent of which have been placed on a financial "watch list" by the state board of education.

Opponents also maintain that the measure would violate the constitutional prohibition on the state estabel10llishment of religion, since some of the vouchers would go to church-affiliated schools.

A spokesman for the state board said that it has not taken a position on the bill, but has a longstanding policy opposing vouchers for both public and private schools.

The measure was never brought up for a vote on the House floor last year.

Mr. Bugielski conceded that he had not had enough votes last year to pass the bill. But he expressed optimism about the bill's prospects.

"There's more interest in the bill this year than last," he said. ''And if it doesn't pass this year, I will be back with it next year."--ws

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