Giuliani Proposes a Voucher Program for New York
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York City has proposed testing a Milwaukee-style voucher program in one of the city's 32 community school districts.
"Let's see if it works," the mayor said during his State of the City Address Jan. 14, in which he unveiled a number of policy proposals for the 1.1 million-student school system, including a new governance system that would give him much greater control over the district.
"If we give poorer parents the same opportunity to make choices about their children's education that the richest and most affluent parents in New York City have," Mr. Giuliani said, "let's see if that doesn't work to really energize the school district."
A pilot program granting private school vouchers to poor families in one of the community districts could be started without any changes in state law, the mayor's office said. Under the state-mandated voucher program in Milwaukee, some 6,200 students are using vouchers to attend private and religious schools.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court last year upheld the program in the face of constitutional challenges to the use of vouchers in religious schools. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case last fall.
The mayor called on New Yorkers to suspend what he called their traditional "fears of new ideas" and give vouchers a chance. "Don't kill it before it has a chance to grow," he said.
But the United Federation of Teachers, which represents the city's 130,000 teachers, vowed to do just that.
"One thing we absolutely oppose is experiments for experiment's sake," Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, said in a prepared statement. "In Milwaukee and Cleveland, many serious questions have been raised about [voucher] programs. Research has demonstrated that they haven't produced what they promised."
The school district's chancellor, Rudolph F. Crew, also appeared unenthusiastic about the voucher proposal. He told local reporters that he would rather devote energy to another of the mayor's ideas: converting one community school district into a charter district in which the public schools would be free of many bureaucratic constraints.
The mayor's office said that proposal would be a good test of how far New York state's new charter school law could go. Mr. Crew also plans to create 12 to 18 special charter schools built around themes such as the legal system, books and publishing, or new media.
Mayor Giuliani also proposed major changes in the school district's current governance system of one citywide school board and 32 sub-districts, each with its own school board overseeing elementary schools in that community.
"The governance structure in this system does not work, and it should be changed," the mayor said.
He proposed a streamlined city agency that would oversee schools, with a commissioner of education appointed by the mayor with the approval of the City Council.
He said Chicago's experience with a school system chief executive officer appointed by the mayor has worked. The idea would require changes in state law.
Vol. 18, Issue 20, Page 3Published in Print: January 27, 1999, as Giuliani Proposes a Voucher Program for New York