A Quiet Revolt Boosts School Choice

Article excerpt

With the media's attention focused on immigration and term-limits initiatives this year, the absence of school choice on any state ballots went largely unnoticed.

Only two states, Oregon and Arkansas, even attempted to place vouchers before the voters. Proposition 174's humiliating defeat in California last year apparently warned pro-school choice activists and donors against investing in choice and gave the National Education Association - which spent $17 million to defeat 174 - a brief respite.

That's not to say the education establishment had a free ride on Nov. 8. Educrats feed on big government, and the NEA lobbied fiercely against any ballot measure that attempted to cut taxes and spending. In Missouri for instance, an attempt by U.S. Rep. Mel Hancock to cap spending and put all taxes to a vote of the people was defeated, thanks largely to the efforts of the Missouri Education Association.

But the education associations also rely heavily on controlling state and national politics, and here is where they suffered dramatic defeats. A quick glance at all the pro-school choice candidates elected to local school boards, state legislatures, Congress and governorships tells the tale. The 1994 elections have given school-choice supporters a whole new army of friendly elected officials - at every level of government - with whom to work.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tommy Thompson, a longtime choice advocate, finally has a Republican majority in both legislative bodies to broaden Milwaukee's existing choice program, with strong support from key Democrats including Mayor John Norquist and state Rep. Polly Williams. Thompson was rewarded for his pro-school choice activism by carrying Milwaukee in his bid for a third term, a rare feat for any Republican. Look for his efforts to expand choice this spring.

Arizona will be back for another school-choice fight, after a near victory last spring. This time, with the re-election of Gov. Fife Symington, who attributes his come-from-behind triumph to his support for school choice, Arizona has a good chance of enacting school vouchers for low-income kids. Expect School Board Superintendent-elect Lisa Graham - a Republican who ran on a pro-school choice platform - to lead the charge. This office has not been held by a Republican since 1978, and Graham is no rookie on school choice. She's the former chair of the Arizona House Education Committee and spearheaded last year's effort to pass a school-choice measure.

Connecticut also returns with better prospects for choice. With the election of a pro-school choice governor, John Rowland, and a new Republican majority in the Senate, and with bipartisan support for school choice, Connecticut's chances to pass vouchers have increased considerably. …