Private Schools

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The Massachusetts legislature gave its final endorsement to a controversial constitutional amendment that, if approved by a majority of the state's voters later this year, would permit state aid to private-school students.

But the proposed amendment, which has been heavily debated in the last two legislative sessions, is likely to encounter strong opposition from a coalition of religious and education groups that are concerned that such a law would seriously threaten the state's public schools.

The proposed constitutional amendment would strike out language in the state constitution prohibiting the state from aiding or maintaining private schools, according to Emily D. Lunceford, an aide to state Senator Gerard D'Amico, co-chairman of the joint education committee.

Current state laws permit aid to private-school students for transportation, textbooks, and special-education services. But during the past two years, the practice has been challenged in at least three lawsuits.

The intent of the amendment is not to increase aid to private schools, Ms. Lunceford said, but to protect existing state support from legal attacks. The proposed amendment to the state constitution, which is considered far more restrictive than federal law, "would allow aid to private-school students to the same extent that the U.S. Constitution'' permits such support, she added.

She said that Mr. D'Amico supported the amendment because of the increasing number of court challenges to the existing laws.

In opposing the change, state education groups argue that because of Proposition 2, the state's property-tax-cutting measure, public-school programs will be seriously jeopardized if local school districts are forced to provide aid to private schools.

"The timing is just lousy from our point of view," said Margaret Jacques of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

Richard J. Durkin, director of governmental services for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said the proposed amendment could "open the gates to textbook reimbursement and could take $5 million out of hard-pressed local budgets."

"It's going to exacerbate the animosity that may exist between public and private schools that was stirred up by [Proposition] 2," Mr. Durkin added.

Albuquerque's Menaul School devised a way to address both the financial needs of students and the inevitable wear and tear on the campus. Twenty-three students spent part of their summer vacation painting, tending the grounds, and working in the school's cafeteria and laundry. The summer workers were paid minimum wage; after deductions for meals and living expenses, each participant earned about $450 to apply toward next year's tuition.

Vol. 01, Issue 40

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