DON'T look for school choice to take solid root in...


January 27, 1993

DON'T look for school choice to take solid root in Maryland in the next few years. We're too liberal.

That was one of the messages conveyed by William Bennett, former education secretary, former drug czar and conservative torch-bearer, in a lecture at Goucher College Monday evening.

Mr. Bennett knows a little something about Maryland. He lives in Chevy Chase and keeps an eye on Maryland politics. He's encouraged by the measure incorporated into Gov. William Donald Schaefer's 1993 budget that would finance a pilot choice program for 200 students statewide. (See Carol Arscott's article on the page opposite.)

But Maryland and Minnesota, which already has a limited choice scheme on the books, aren't likely to be hospitable, at least in the short run, to fully developed choice programs, Mr. Bennett said. Too much legislative resistance in Annapolis and St. Paul. Too many squawks from the liberal establishment.

He thinks the time for such an effort is 1994.

The place? California. The reason? Californians are open to innovative ideas and it's relatively easy to make law by public referendum in California. Besides, 15 percent of the nation's kids attend school in the Golden State.

In "retirement" from service in the Reagan and Bush administrations, Mr. Bennett and other conservatives, including Jack Kemp, former Housing and Urban Development secretary, are launching a movement called "Empower America" that has "November 1996" written all over it.

Mr. Bennett was the second nationally known school choice leader to visit Baltimore in two weeks. Polly Williams, a black Wisconsin state legislator from inner-city Milwaukee who is the inspiration of a voucher program in that city, made the rounds during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, accompanied by Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-Baltimore, co-sponsor of the school choice effort in Maryland.

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