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New G.O.P. Governors in N.J. and Va. Have Backed Vouchers

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Voters in New Jersey and Virginia last week elected Republican Governors who are receptive to offering students taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

Both of the winning candidates defeated Democrats who had campaigned against the use of public monies for private schools.

In New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, a former county freeholder and a member of a prominent family, narrowly defeated the Democratic incumbent, Gov. James J. Florio.

In Virginia, former U.S. Rep. George F. Allen overcame a strong early advantage for former State Attorney General Mary Sue Terry to win by a sound margin.

In the Old Dominion's contest for lieutenant governor, however, the incumbent Democrat, Donald S. Beyer, defeated Michael P. Farris, a conservative Christian activist who served for several years as the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

An ally of the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Mr. Farris advocated school vouchers and tax credits for home schooling.

Mr. Allen will take office with an increased number of Republicans in the legislature, although short of a majority.

His education agenda is likely to include more student assessments and the privatization of custodial, transportation, and similar school services.

Mrs. Whitman, on the other hand, will have the support of G.O.P. majorities in both legislative chambers.

In calling for school vouchers, both Mr. Allen and Mrs. Whitman set restrictions on their coverage.

Mr. Allen's platform called for giving vouchers to children from low-income families.

Under Mrs. Whitman's plan, vouchers would be used on a pilot basis only, specifically in Jersey City, where the mayor has been pushing the concept, and possibly in other poor urban districts.

Equity Push Seen Threatened

At greater stake in New Jersey, analysts suggest, is the quest for equalized funding for education.

Mrs. Whitman vowed during the campaign to cut income taxes by 30 percent over three years.

The G.O.P. candidate also argued that the state would be able, by shifting money from other programs, to comply with a New Jersey Supreme Court mandate to provide increased funds to poor school districts. But others expressed skepticism that both goals could be achieved.

Her tax-cut plan "risks pushing support for education back to the local level,'' said William Firestone, the director of the Center for Educational Policy Analysis in New Jersey at Rutgers University.

"The more you throw support for education back to the local level,'' Mr. Firestone pointed out, "the more difficult it is going to be to equalize expenditures for education.''

Mrs. Whitman's victory stunned observers. Throughout the campaign, public-opinion polls showed Mr. Florio as the clear front-runner, although in the final days of the campaign his lead narrowed somewhat. (See Education Week, Oct. 27, 1993.)

Haunting Governor Florio, however, was lingering voter resentment over a record tax increase he pushed through the legislature in 1990, about half of which went to pay for education.

In the last weeks, Mrs. Whitman changed the tone of her campaign to accentuate her own positive qualities, rather than dwelling on her opponent's shortcomings, observed Ken Dautrich, the associate director of the Eagleton Poll.

"What people were looking for in this election was a reason to vote for Whitman,'' Mr. Dautrich said.

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