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Coalition Assails Private-School Vouchers as 'Unwise Public Policy'

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Washington--A coalition of education associations last week assailed the use of educational vouchers that allow public-school students to attend private schools at state expense.

"[O]ften veiled as choice, [vouchers] are examples of unwise public policy because they undermine our nation's system of public schools," the Forum of Educational Organization Leaders concludes in a statement.

The forum--made up of 11 organizations representing teachers, administrators, school boards, and parents--voted at its October meeting to oppose vouchers. The announcement of its decision last Wednesday came one day after Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos announced the establishment of the Center for Choice in Education. (See related story on this page.)

In its statement, the forum "urges the President, governors, members of Congress, state legislators, and other public policymakers to join the American people in rejecting private-school voucher schemes and to work for sound financial investment in our public schools in the difficult years ahead."

Choice through vouchers would "splinter students and their parents into separate schools along ethnic, financial, or ideological lines," the statement says.

"Efforts to improve public schools (which educate 90 percent of our American children) require constructive strategies, not the tactics of abandonment, public financial withdrawal, and an erosion of public confidence through appeals to win 'market share,"' it states.

All but one of the forum's 11 members, the Education Commission of the States, signed the position paper.

Signing the statement were the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National pta, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association.

Because the ecs is made up of members across the political spectrum, it does not take public stands on such issues, according to a spokesman, Kim Moyer.

The forum's statement also argues that:

Voucher advocates often have an ulterior motive--shifting public-education funding to private schools--when they propose choice.

Voucher proposals do little for long-term education reform by deflecting attention away from other potential reforms.

Choice programs that include private schools have the potential to circumvent provisions for educational quality control and public accountability; safeguards against racial and social-class isolation; restrictions on the use of funding for religious purposes; and rules forbidding racial, ethnic, "and other invidious" discrimination.

Bella Rosenberg, assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said her organization has supported parental choice in public schools under certain circumstances. But using tax dollars to support choice programs that allow public-school students to attend private schools is particularly egregious, she said.

"Now I have the right to request public funds for dancing schools and music schools and aerobics schools or whatever else I'm interested in," Ms. Rosenberg said.

Advocates who expect choice programs that involve private schools to foster competition and improve education are living in a "fantasyland," she said.

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