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State Journal: Slipping backward; No chance to work

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State school-reform efforts of all sorts have been under fire in recent weeks.

In Kentucky, for example, which launched the nation's most ambitious education-reform program three years ago, there are signs that public backing is weakening.

A new poll by the University of Kentucky shows the percentage of state residents expressing support for the reform law has fallen to 51 percent, from 62 percent a year ago.

And while the percentage of respondents who disapprove of the law has held roughly steady, at about one-fifth of all residents, the share of those who are not sure where they stand has jumped, from 21 percent to 31 percent.

Meanwhile in South Carolina, which started down the comprehensive school-improvement road a few years before Kentucky, backers are expressing concern that their movement is losing momentum.

The state has experienced "a serious erosion of financial support for education,'' suggests a draft report by the South Carolina Business-Education Subcommittee, a watchdog panel.

"In the 1980's, South Carolina not only kept pace but passed a number of states,'' says the report, which was quoted in The Charlotte Observer, a North Carolina newspaper. "Now, as we enter 1993, the state is on the verge of slipping backward.''

Nor has the news been particularly positive for those who would use parental choice to improve the schools.

A new report by a conservative Michigan think tank concludes that that state's experiment with public school choice has been essentially a failure so far.

The report by the Mackinac Center found that most school districts complied with a state choice law simply by rewriting their existing student-transfer policies. Only a handful of districts established magnet programs or other alternatives, the study says.

Just giving parents the right to select from current schools, the report suggests, is scarcely a choice at all.

"Choice did not fail,'' an author of the report was quoted as saying. "It simply was not given a chance to work in most districts.''

While the authors of the report want to expand the choice concept to include private school vouchers, evidence from another state suggests that the public is chary of diverting scarce public dollars.

A recent poll by Arizona State University found that 55 percent of respondents opposed a voucher plan proposed by Gov. Fife Symington, while 39 percent supported the idea.--H.D.

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