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2 N.Y. Policymakers Float Voucher Proposals

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Vouchers and other forms of school choice have received scant support in New York state. But there now appears to be some momentum for what advocates claim are antidotes for underachieving public schools.

Within the past month, two high-profile policymakers have proposed vouchers for the poorest students who attend the lowest-performing schools. The latest proposal came at last month's meeting of the New York state board of regents. Even though the board voted 8-5 to table the voucher item, its champion, former regents Chancellor R. Carlos Carballada, said last week he intends to reintroduce the measure next month.

Less than two weeks earlier, New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani recommended that 1,000 of the city's academic underachievers be transferred to religious schools. ("1,000 Slots at Catholic Schools Offered to NYC Students," Sept. 18, 1996.)

Mr. Carballada first raised the issue at the state level five years ago but promised not to propose it again as long as he chaired the state board. At one point during the past year, he said a regents' committee had considered offering vouchers as one of the tools in the state education commissioner's plan to improve low-performing schools. When the committee dropped it, he said, he felt compelled to resurrect the idea.

Under his plan, students whose schools rank so low on tests that they are on a state list of low-performing schools would receive $2,500 vouchers for tuition at private or parochial schools.

Bond Proposal

It would also give Commissioner Richard P. Mills the power to shift students--and their state aid--between districts.

The mayor's plan, meanwhile, stems at least in part from the overcrowding in New York City's schools. The schools need major repairs, several studies show.

State education officials estimate that half of the city's 1,000 schools and an additional 700 schools upstate are unfit. The projected cost of fixing them is $15 billion, but districts have budgeted only $9.6 billion.

To close the gap, the regents have proposed a $5 billion state bond issue over the next five years.

Legislative approval is required for many of these changes, including the bond issue.

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