Trail-Blazing Schools


Louisiana won't be the only part of the country to consider expanding school choices this year. (See "Bayou Book-Learnin'," Trends, May.) A pilot program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will provide private tuition vouchers for as many as 1 percent of the city's poorest public school students. And in November, Oregon voters will have the chance to place a tuition tax credit plan in motion statewide.

The Oregon Educational Choice Initiative would mandate open enrollment among public school districts and provide tax credits of up to $2,500 per student for private or home schooling.

Under the initiative, when a student opts out of the public schools, his local school district will return to the state about half of that student's per-pupil expenditure; this money will more than pay for the tax credit. The credits will then be paid to parents along with regular state income-tax refunds. Low-income families who pay less than $2,500 in taxes will get a rebate.

Oregonians for Educational Choice, the group sponsoring the initiative, projects that the state will break even if 8 percent of public students select private schools. If 20 percent use the plan, the state will save more than $100 million. A March poll conducted by Bardsley and Neidhart, the state's largest polling agency, found that 40 percent of those queried support the initiative; 35 percent oppose it. As of late April, the initiative looked likely to qualify for the November ballot.

Oregon's teachers' unions and its major-party candidates for governor strongly oppose the initiative. Steve Buckstein, outreach coordinator of OEC, reports that those public officials who privately support the initiative refuse to publicly do so until it gains ballot status.