Vouchers Defeated; Evolution Defended

By Doerr, Edd | The Humanist, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview

Vouchers Defeated; Evolution Defended


Doerr, Edd, The Humanist


Curiously unreported in the news roundup of the November, 5, 1996, election results was the outcome of two important referenda in Washington state. Similarly un- or underreported were the results of referenda on like topics in 20 previous elections between 1966 and 1993, in states from New York and Massachusetts to every state on the West Coast.

On November 5, 1996, Washington state voters defeated Initiatives 173 and 177 by 65 percent to 35 percent. The first - sponsored and promoted by Ron Taber, who also ran and was soundly defeated for the post of state super-intendent of public instruction - would have created a voucher system of nearly complete tax support for sectarian and other nonpublic schools, which currently enroll about 4 percent to 7 percent of the state's children.

The second initiative - sponsored by wealthy Jim and Fawn Brady and endorsed by former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and long-time voucher promoters John Coons, Terry Moe, Denis P. Doyle, and Chester E. Finn - was more complex. It would have permitted private schools to be labeled "independent public schools" and public schools to be converted into "independent public schools" that would function pretty much like private schools.

Both plans would have seriously disrupted public education and weakened public control over educational spending. Both would have allowed tax-supported schools to provide sectarian and ideological indoctrination as well as to discriminate and select along religious and gender lines. Both would have largely exempted tax-funded private schools from reasonable regulations applicable to real public schools.

In 1975, Washington state voters rejected by 60 percent to 40 percent a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have allowed tax aid to sectarian schools at all levels. The 1996 Washington state referenda results match those of 20 previous referenda in Massachusetts, New York, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho, California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska since 1996, in which the total cumulative vote against any form of tax aid for sectarian and other nonpublic schools averaged 66.9 percent to 33.1 percent. Interestingly, the 1996 Washington state results exactly match the 1995 Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll showing opposition to vouchers at 65 percent to 35 percent.

The Washington state results are extremely important because congressional Republicans, conservative think tanks, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, and the Catholic bishops will not let up in their well-funded campaign to get a voucher plan enacted. We must not forget that Bob Dole cosponsored a voucher bill in the Senate in 1994 that was defeated following speeches against it by Catholic senators Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd.

Dole came out strongly for vouchers in campaign speeches on July 17 and 18. After its news report on July 17 about the Dole speech, National Public Radio broadcast my commentary pointing out the serious objections to the plan. In August, NPR's "Talk of the Nation" show aired my one-hour debate on vouchers with economist Terry Moe.

Supporters of public education and church-state separation will need to make their voices heard on the voucher issue.

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