Clarke's alternative plan: public school choice


While Gov. William Donald Schaefer pushes cash vouchers that would let public school students pay for private or parochial school, Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke has come out in favor of a far different version of school "choice."

Her idea, known as public school choice, would let parents enroll their children in any city public school, bringing with them a per-pupil amount of money for the school's budget.

Currently, the school system places restrictions on school enrollments outside of a student's designated home district.

Mrs. Clarke sees her concept as a logical outgrowth of the school system's efforts to give individual schools greater

authority over their own budgets.

Once budget officials determine an appropriate per-pupil amount for each student, "I want to carry that check to the public school of my choice," she said. "I want the public schools to compete for my money."

And, although she has no formal plan on the table, Mrs. Clarke, a former teacher, favors such a system by the 1994-1995 school year, "just to prove that we have the money in the schools, and that parents are empowered to carry that money."

Her proposal is far different from a nearly $600,000 voucher experiment proposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The governor's plan, opposed by teachers unions and some public educators, would give 200 low-income Baltimore students vouchers to pay tuition at private or parochial schools, or to pay fees at schools in jurisdictions outside the city.

The governor's proposal is set for a hearing in Annapolis today before the House Appropriations Committee. The panel's chairman, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, favors the plan.

Mrs. Clarke's public school choice proposal drew cautious support from Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, and from a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"I'd be willing to consider that," said Dr. Amprey, who opposes the governor's plan to give vouchers for private school tuition. Public school choice is simply another way to offer parents more flexibility in enrolling their children, he said. But Dr. Amprey added that even a public school choice system would have to be carefully managed to avoid overcrowding at popular schools and vacancies at others.

Linda Prudente, a spokeswoman for the BTU, noted that the city already offers a form of choice at the high school level. Schools such as Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Paul Laurence Dunbar offer specialized programs that draw students citywide.

"As long as it's within public schools and within [Baltimore] boundaries, there's no problem," she said.

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