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by Ben Sears and Dennis Barnabey, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Local 3

Q. What are school choice "vouchers"?

A. Vouchers are public funds that are used to help pay the cost for students to attend private or religious schools.

Q. Which cities in the U.S. currently have publicly funded voucher programs in place?

A. Cleveland and Milwaukee, as well as the state of Florida.

Q. How much money was spent on vouchers in those cities for the 1998- 99 school year? What does the research says about the cost effectiveness of the voucher programs in place?

A. In Milwaukee, each of 6,000 students received a voucher worth 5,000 for a total of $29 million. In Cleveland, 3,744 students received vouchers worth up to $2,500 each for a total of about $9 million, with additional administrative and transportation costs making the total $10 million. Cleveland, for example could have introduced a program such as Success for All into all 80 elementary schools for about $6 million dollars less.

Q. What does the research says about the educational results of voucher programs?

A. According to Princeton Professor Cecilia Rouse, the research to date strongly suggests that "small class size trumps vouchers."

Q. What do reliable opinion polls say about public attitudes towards school choice and funding for public education?

A. A Phi Delta Kappa'Gallup Poll in 1997 found that 71% preferred fixing the existing public schools while only 23% preferred finding an alternative to the existing system. Another poll (Peter Hart Associates 1998) found that investing in smaller classes beat vouchers by 39% to 6%.

Q. Who opposes vouchers and who supports them?

A. Those opposed to vouchers include: the NAACP, the National Caucus of Black Legislators. the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), People for the American Way, and the President of the United States. Those in favor include Newt Gingrich, California Insurance executive J. Patrick Rooney and Wal-Mart executive John Walton.

Q. Where can I find dependable information about school vouchers?

A. The answers to these and many other questions can now be found in materials recently published by Partners for Public Education (the NAACP and People for the American Way Foundation) and by the AFT. Teachers and others who attended a recent workshop in Philadelphia received a thick binder entitled School Choice: Who Chooses? Who Loses? with a wealth of information in addition to answers to the questions above. To find out about this material, call the AFT at (800) 238-1138, ext. 7476; or call the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (APRI) at (202) 289-2774.

Q. What you can do to influence the outcome of the education debate in your communitv or your state?

A. Get the material. If you are an activist. keep doing what you are doing, only more so! In short, vouchers or "school choice" plans clearly can pose a serious threat to public schools by draining away significant funds, as the Milwaukee and Cleveland figures show. But the public opinion poll results and the developing organized support for public schools nationwide, as indicated by the comprehensive nature of the material cited above. is cause for optimism and should motivate education activists to redouble their efforts. It should be possible to broaden this support even more, by bringing in forces such as the entire labor movement.