Voucher Initiative Fails To Win Spot on Fall Ballot in Calif.
In a significant reverse for the choice movement nationwide, a school-voucher initiative in California has failed to win a spot on the November ballot.
Sponsors of the initiative, which calls for a sweeping program of state-subsidized private-school choice, were unable to obtain enough verified petition signatures to put the plan before the voters this fall.
The final blow to the initiative came late last month, when the state supreme court rejected a challenge to the statistical method under which the proposal had been ruled ineligible.
But the initiative's backers, who predict it will be certified later this month for inclusion in the state's June 1994 ballot, are vowing to continue their efforts to build popular support for the plan.
"It's a setback, but it's not a defeat,'' said Kevin D. Teasley, the campaign director for the Excellence in Choice Through Education League, or EXCEL, which organized the signature-gathering campaign.
Secretary of State March Fong Eu had ruled in June that, based on a random-sampling technique, there were not enough valid signatures to certify the initiative for the fall.
EXCEL then mounted an unsuccessful petition to review the sampling methodology as invalid.
Mr. Teasley said he expects that a full count of the signatures--to be released later this month--will provide enough valid ones to qualify the measure for the next statewide election, in June 1994.
'They'll Be Back'
In the wake of the ruling, both supporters and opponents of the proposal said they were honing their strategies for what could be the fiercest debate about school choice so far.
The initiative would create the most extensive school-voucher program in the country, by enabling parents to spend tax dollars to send their children to the public, private, or parochial school of their choice. (See Education Week, May 6, 1992.)
The initiative has generated intense opposition from the California Teachers Association and other education groups, which see it as an open assault on the public schools. Shortly before the secretary of state's ruling, a coalition of education, business, and civic groups had been prepared to hire a campaign-management team to fight the initiative.
"At this point, we think we're relatively safe,'' said Gloria M. Blackwell, the president of the California State Parent Teachers Association, which is a member of the coalition. "But they'll be back in 1994, and we know that.''
"We will be meeting shortly and start our strategy to regroup,'' she added. "We can't relax. If we let down our guard, we let them in the back door.''
Ms. Blackwell predicted that the measure, if passed, would "destroy public education'' in California.
Mr. Teasley said he looked forward to a two-year campaign.
"It was going to be a Herculean task to reach every constituent in the state of California by November of '92,'' he said. "It's a lot more plausible to do for June of '94.''
"Our biggest problem for '94,'' he added, "will be that the bureaucrats in the education establishment are the largest voters in a June election.''
Mr. Teasley also suggested that public-school educators may have purposefully sabotaged the signature-gathering campaign by signing more than one petition. "We're looking into that,'' he said, but offered no proof.