San Mateo Times 14 Sept. 1979

Spurred on by the growing dissatisfaction with public schools
Libertarians look at voucher proposals
by Janet Parker
Times Staff Writer

    Three different means of providing parents with greater financial alternatives for educating their children — all attempting to qualify for a statewide ballot — crossed paths Thursday evening at a San Mateo meeting.
    About the only thing the three proposals have in common, however, is a growing dissatisfaction with public school education today.

    How to help parents deal with that dissatisfaction is the fundamental question.
    Complicating the issue are concerns about how much state control should remain and how much formal education a child should be required to receive.

    The three speakers, each representing his own initiative effort, appeared at the San Mateo County Libertarian Party meeting at Bay View Federal Savings.

    "I'm delighted to see three people up here trying to determine who can offer families the most choice," said one of the speakers, William Burt of the National Taxpayers Union, after the diverse plans were outlined.

The three approaches are:

Perhaps the most extreme of the plans Is the Hickey-Canfield effort, which, Hickey explained, would end compulsory education in California.
    It actually would allow a parent to educate his child at home or use the voucher — which has a built-in cost-of-living factor — to educate children in any other type of school they deem appropriate.

    It is not, Hickey emphasized, "instant money." It can't be redeemed until the student first demonstrates progress, a "performance-first, payment-later principle."
    Other features of the initiative, he explained, include a parent's right to assign he voucher to more than one school or to use the money to purchase educational materials, such as books.
    "We have a motivational crisis in this country," Hickey told the audience of mostly Libertarians. That "crisis," he claimed, stems from the current educational system, which, he said, lacks incentive.
    "The time has come to stop experimenting with schools ... and create a system that incorporates the best of them all," he stated. Public schools today, he said, are overregulated, overly bureaucratic and lacking in accountability.

    Hickey responded to a newsletter of the Association of California School Administrators which claimed that the initiative would lead to "marketing, merchandising and promotion" of the private schools and to "manipulation" of public opinion about schools.
    "Those three words are not synonymous with fraud, which is what our school administrators are doing now, " he said.

    Under the NTU's tax credit proposal, Burt explained, the amount of the credit could not exceed the amount of payable income tax. For corporations, it could not exceed 50 percent of the total payable tax.
    Unlike the Hickey-Canfield proposal, the tax credit could be applied only to instruction at a public or private school that meets the state Compulsory Education Laws.
Built-into the initiative is a 10 percent annual increase in the maximum amount of the credit.

    Burt said he has been asked if the credit proposal might spell the end of public schools as they are known today.
    "Why should we care about public schools as an institution? They were supposed to educate children. They have failed in that," Burt replied.

    Burt criticized the voucher proposals because, he said, the vouchers are derived from state monies, and with state funds comes state control over how it will be spent.
    With a tax credit, he said, "the state never gets its grubby hands on the money." The credit, he said, will probably encourage the creation of more private schools, which is healthy for a competitive atmosphere.
    Under his proposal, a corporation or other business entity could actually take a credit off its income taxes for up to $1,200 per child for Scholarships and other educational services.

    According to Coons, his voucher plan would create two new kinds of school systems in addition to what already exists: a system of independent public schools under separate non-profit corporations, and private "family choice schools" with open enrollments and freedom to teach whatever they choose.

    Both systems, Burt said, would have to accept the vouchers or be run out of business.

    While the amount of the voucher would be established by the Legislature, it could not exceed 90 percent of the amount the state spends per child for education in regular, public schools, he said.
    The plan, he said, "puts the consumer in the saddle," giving parent and child the liberty to chose the form of education that will occur.

Apprehensions about all three proposals were expressed by members of the audience.

    Coons was asked how parents can make an educated choice in their child's education.
    Coons said it's true that ordinary people may have less sophistication about what's available on the market. An independent agency, free of government interference, should be established as a source of information, he said.

    In answer to a question about treatment of discipline problems, Hickey said his initiative Would eliminate such problems because it would eliminate compulsory education.
    "Education today keeps children there who don't want to be there," he said.

Coons said under his voucher plan, children guilty of bad behavior would be subject to expulsion.

    Concerning the motivation of parents to even send their children to school, Hickey said that despite the lack of compulsion, he believes the building fund for an individual child — $10,000 after five years, for example — would be like an "oil-well."

"You better believe they're going to go after it," he said. Besides, he noted, "There's no way to live and eat and breathe and not be educated."

"The point is not the money. The point is to give people an increased control over their own lives," Burt said. "The money only makes the choice real."