Potential proposition would have public schools sold
Less than a week after the polls closed on the March 7 primary elections, would-be lawmakers are already gathering the signatures needed to put voter initiatives on the November ballot.
The most dramatic is a measure that would eliminate public schools in favor of letting parents decide how to educate their children.
“I have come to the conclusion that there is not any way to correct the situation in public schools,” John Hickey, who authored the proposition, said. “Some people think I am throwing out the baby with the bath water but I think the baby was stillborn.”
The measure would scrap the state’s public schools and create a state-funded voucher system where parents would receive up to $4,000 per child each year to pay for a private education or teach their children at home. After 20 years the voucher system, paid for by the sale of public schools, would also be done away with, making parents completely responsible for their children’s education. Hickey claims the gradual elimination of state sales taxes called for by the proposition would offset the burden placed on families by lack of any state education funding.
“That is insane. I am 100 percent opposed to vouchers,” said Thomas Romero, a Democratic candidate in the first state Senate district. “It is giving a blank check to voucher schools to use the taxpayers’ money without any government oversight.”
Romero, who teaches history at Granite Oaks Middle School in Rocklin, Calif., said Hickey’s proposal would lower the overall quality of education in California and put an end to all state regulations. Teachers would not need to be certified, there would be no standardized testing, and no basic curriculum requirements.
Currently the state spends $10,000 each year on each student, which Hickey said would be far too much even if public schools successfully educated the state’s children. He maintains that the free market will ensure students receive a quality education but even those who are in favor of school vouchers are opposed to the proposition.
“I support vouchers – I think people should have choices – but this sounds kind of goofy,” Assemblyman Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, said. “There is no denying that the public school system is a mess, but I am not prepared to take the step from saying we want to reform the system to saying we want to abolish it.”
Hickey imagines that many public schools would become charter or private schools if the measure were to become law, and that entrepreneurs would find new ways to educate the state’s children.
“Those vouchers are like gold and they need to be mined,” he said.
Hickey, a Libertarian who is running for state Senate in the 11th district, has until August to collect the 670,816 signatures necessary to put the proposition on the ballot. He was successful in placing a similar measure on the ballot in 1980 and is counting on the support from the Libertarian Party to make this proposition successful.
“There are a lot of sugar daddies out there, though, and if this piques the interest of one, and he wants to give me millions of dollars, I could use that,” he said.
Sale of the state’s 8,000 schools would raise as much as $100 billion and in the long run the state could save as much as $100 billion each year. However, according to Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill, the measure would have dramatic effects on the economy that are difficult to predict.
“There are a lot of people out there who support a voucher system and want to see the end of public schools,” said Hickey, who is confident the propositions will make it onto the November ballot.
Oller disagreed, and said, “I don’t think you are going to find many people to support this idea, and I don’t think it is going to be successful because it goes too far.”
Signatures are also being gathered in support of a more modest school voucher proposition sponsored by venture capitalist Tim Draper. That proposition would authorize payments of at least $4,000 per pupil enrolled in private or religious schools.
That measure is more likely to gain widespread support, according to Oller, who said public schools play a vital role in educating disadvantaged students.
Hickey admits that there is no way to guarantee that parents spend the money they save in sales taxes on education and said, “some children will fall through the cracks, but I can’t control that.”
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