Home Schooling, Vouchers on Voters' Minds in Va.
Home schooling and school vouchers could play a significant role in deciding the outcomes when Virginia voters go to the polls next week to select a governor and lieutenant governor.
Public-opinion polls indicate that education, crime, and the economy are the top three issues in the gubernatorial campaign between former Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, the Democratic candidate, and former U.S. Rep. George F. Allen, the Republican.
Both candidates are responding to the public's desire to see education addressed this year.
Mr. Allen, for example, has proposed to offer parents tax breaks for home schooling. He also has called for giving vouchers to students from low-income families to attend the public or private school of their choice.
Although he has not proposed increasing state aid to education, Mr. Allen has promised to insure that tuition at state postsecondary institutions does not increase beyond the rate of inflation.
In addition to attacking Mr. Allen's tax-credit and voucher proposals, Ms. Terry has put forward several ideas aimed at bolstering the public schools. She would fund school-based-management initiatives, for example, and withhold funds from districts deemed to employ too many administrators.
Ms. Terry, who resigned during her second term as state attorney general to campaign full time, has also said she would support spending $100 million to hire more K-3 teachers in schools with a high percentage of at-risk students.
Ms. Terry's stands have won her the backing of the 52,000-member Virginia Education Association.
But other state educators were still uncommitted last week. The Norfolk Federation of Teachers, for instance, declined to endorse a candidate, since neither supports a proposal to allow state employees to have union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.
Still, Marian D. Flickinger, the president of the N.F.T., conceded that Ms. Terry's opposition to vouchers will give her "a leg up when I go into the voting booth.''
But while Ms. Terry began with a considerable leg up--a poll lead of nearly 30 points and a huge fund-raising advantage--the campaign has shifted dramatically in the past two months. A Richmond Times-Dispatch poll last week showed Ms. Terry trailing Mr. Allen by 17 percentage points.
The race for lieutenant governor has been marked by a clear ideological divide and connection to education.
The contest pits the Democratic incumbent, Donald S. Beyer Jr., against Michael P. Farris.
Mr. Farris is a conservative Christian activist who served for a number of years as the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
In 1991, Mr. Farris's group won a South Carolina Supreme Court case challenging a requirement that parents pass a test before teaching their children at home.
Mr. Farris has called for school vouchers and tax credits for home schooling.
Mr. Farris's ties to the prominent conservative ministers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have provided ammunition for campaign ads by Mr. Beyer, who contends that the Republican candidate would be under the control of the "religious right.''
Mr. Beyer has also faulted Mr. Farris for his involvement in efforts by parents in some communities to ban such books as The Wizard of Oz and The Learning Tree from the public schools.
Mr. Farris has countered that he did not object to his own children reading some of the books, but supported the right of parents to determine what books were used in their local schools.
Despite the Republican surge in the gubernatorial race, Mr. Beyer
appeared last week to be holding his own, with an 11 percentage point
lead over Mr. Farris.