Voucher Bills Derailed In State Legislatures Across The Country

Voucher bills were defeated in four states recently, thanks to work by Americans United and its allies in the public education and civil liberties communities.

In Oklahoma, a proposal by state Sen. Jim Williamson to give vouchers (called "scholarships") to disabled children failed after a 4-4 vote in the Appropriations Committee.

SB 536 would have allowed the state Department of Education to determine which private schools could take part. The amount of the voucher would have varied depending on the per-pupil allocation for public school students.

During debate, Sen. Paul Gumm, a Democrat from Durant, asked that the term "voucher" be used instead of "scholarship."

Said Gumm, "Let’s call it what it is in the interest of full government disclosure, and this is a voucher program. I will never support a voucher bill, which is about taking resources away from all of the kids in the state."

A similar proposal also died in Virginia. SB 759, a voucher plan limited to students with disabilities, failed on an 8-7 committee vote. The measure was introduced by state Sen. Walter Stosch.

In Missouri, SB 498, a type of backdoor voucher bill, was defeated in the House of Representatives on a 62-96 vote March 7.

The plan, dubbed "The Milton Friedman Put Parents in Charge Education Program," would have allocated tax credits worth the full cost of donations made to voucher-granting organizations. Vouchers would have averaged about $5,000 apiece, and participating schools would have been permitted to discriminate on the basis of religion.

North Dakota lawmakers rejected a bill to give tuition tax credits to private school patrons. HB 1478 would have allowed parents to deduct up to half of contributions made to either a public school district or to an accredited private school, up to $1000. It failed on a 61-31 vote in the state House of Representatives.

Despite these victories in the states, vouchers continue to be a threat at the federal level. President George W. Bush is pushing for a nationwide plan, and now a member of Congress has joined the crusade.

U.S. Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation called the "Empowering Parents through Choice Act" that would allocate vouchers worth up to $4,000 for students in public schools determined to be failing under the terms of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the terms of the legislation, federal aid could be used to pay for tuition, fees and transportation at private schools.