School vouchers no answer for poor


WASHINGTON -- Congress apparently is about to approve federally funded vouchers for 2,000 poor Washington, D.C., families who want to receive up to $3,200 a year to help send their children to private or parochial schools.

This measure, sponsored by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican, sounds so generous and caring that some people are applauding it. Well, then, why in the world is President Clinton threatening to veto it?

Because this voucher scheme is a wicked little sham that will barely benefit the 2,000 youngsters, if at all, while doing great damage to the 75,111 children who will be left in Washington's beleaguered public school system.

The evidence is overwhelming that those pushing the voucher program are motivated not by love for the poor children, but by hatred of the public schools which they say are too dominated by teachers' unions. Mr. Armey sent me a packet of materials that reeks with accusations about the horrors of the public schools.

True, all Washington schools are in some measure of disrepair, face problems of violence and rate poorly on test scores, though there are some that produce outstanding graduates. But all these public schools will grow worse if public funds are taken away from them to fund vouchers for private schools.

Mr. Armey argues that his voucher plan must be worthy because the number of parents seeking to participate far exceeds the number of vouchers. Of course! Poor black parents, like all others, want the best for their children. When told that they can get a $3,200 voucher to "rescue" their child from a horrible public school and put that child in a "great" private school, what parent in a similar situation would not jump at the chance? And it would matter little that the "lucky" voucher winners were dooming their neighbors' children to even worse educational opportunities.

Part of the voucher ploy is to drive a class wedge between blacks, most of whom vote Democratic. The argument is that some blacks and others who oppose publicly funded vouchers for the poor send their kids to private schools, and that this is hypocrisy.

A matter of choice

I have had children in both public and private schools. I know that there is nothing hypocritical about an affluent black family sending its children to private or parochial schools as long as that black family also pays for and otherwise supports a first-class public school system.

That affluent black family can proudly donate its own money to bring poor blacks into private schools, but it must not advocate taking public money to help a few to the detriment of the many children who desperately need a decent public school system.

The truth is that the Republicans know that most teachers do not vote for them or for most GOP causes. So these voucher schemes are designed more to punish them, not to lift up poor children.

I feel truly sorry for the poor parents who are so desperate to see their children advance that they will grasp at this sham and delusion called vouchers.

Mr. Clinton will do them a favor by vetoing the Armey scheme, and by continuing to demand more and better teachers, smaller classes and greater overall support for our public schools.

Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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