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Let Vouchers Rip?

President Clinton reminded voters repeatedly this fall that he was probably in his last campaign, except for a possible try for a seat on a local school board. Now, one of his former advisers recommends that the president act as if he's never running for office again.

The president should ease up on his hard-line stance against school vouchers, ignoring his allegiance to teachers' unions and public school officials, writes William Galston, a former domestic-policy adviser to Mr. Clinton, in the Nov. 11 issue of The New Republic.

"This is not the path of political least resistance," Mr. Galston said in an interview from his office at the University of Maryland in College Park, where he is a political science professor.

Mr. Galston said a neutral policy of letting states and communities experiment with vouchers would get the debate beyond the age-old arguments for and against the idea.

"The proponents say this will save the world, and the opponents say it would be the end of the world as we know it," he said. "The time has come for the theories and the predictions to end so we can make a reasonable judgment based on real-world experience."

In 1993, Mr. Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley campaigned vigorously against a California ballot initiative to create a statewide voucher system. The plan was defeated.

Milwaukee and Cleveland are conducting state-funded voucher experiments. Though neither plan uses federal money, the Clinton administration may get the chance to influence their fate if the legal challenges to the plans reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Galston wants Mr. Clinton to stake out a position similar to the one he took in his first debate where he said vouchers should be a state and local issue.

Mr. Galston isn't sanguine about the president's changing his mind now, but he's holding out hope.

"He may shake his head and say his former staff member has lost his senses," Mr. Galston said. "Or he may say, 'Let 'er rip.'"

It is uncertain how such a decision might end up costing a former president in a local school board race.

– DAVID J. HOFF federal@epe.org

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