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Calif. Group Shelves Voucher Initiative Until 1998 Election

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The leading supporters of private school choice in California say they will wait until 1998 to renew their campaign to put a tuition-voucher proposal on the statewide ballot.

Polls indicating that voters have not warmed to the idea of giving state education money to children who attend private schools led officials at the leading school-choice advocacy group to announce the decision last month. In 1993, California voters rejected a voucher initiative by a 7-to-3 margin. (See Education Week, Nov. 10, 1993.)

Officials of the group, the San Diego-based American Education Reform Foundation, had considered working to place a voucher proposal on the ballot in 1996. A statement issued by the group said it will use the next three years to give voters "clear and compelling evidence that school choice will, over time, ensure that all the children of California have access to a quality education."

The California Teachers Association, which spearheaded the campaign against the 1993 initiative, hailed the announcement. Tommye Hutto, a spokeswoman for the state's largest teachers' union, said CTA polls echo the foundation's conclusion that a voucher initiative would probably fail next year.

"The people of California haven't given up on the public schools," she said.

The postponement of the foundation's campaign until 1998 means that Delaine Eastin, the state schools superintendent, can push her broad package of reforms without the distraction of a voucher campaign.

Her proposals, which are scheduled to be announced this week, will include efforts to improve technology, spur parental involvement, and reinstate some form of the state's student-assessment system, an effort that has been plagued with controversy. (See Education Week, April 26, 1995.)

Smaller Group Will Try

Meanwhile, a smaller, San Francisco Bay-area group advocating school choice still aims to put a voucher initiative on the 1996 ballot.

The group, Bay CARE, or Bay Area Californians Advocating Reform in Education, has less financial support than the San Diego foundation. It has filed its initiative with the state and now must collect 600,000 signatures on petitions to place the proposal on the ballot.

The initiative outlines a voucher program that would not siphon additional money from the public schools or the state, said Deborah Wright, a member of the group's board of directors.

Polls conducted after the defeat of the 1993 initiative "showed that if we addressed those issues, 70 percent to 80 percent of the people would support vouchers," she said.

The group must raise $1 million for its petition drive, Ms. Wright said.

Lois Tinson, the president of the CTA, said the union is less concerned by a voucher campaign from this smaller group. "It is our opinion that this will not be as big a threat."

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