IT'S BACK-to-school time, and the debate over vouchers is...

THEO LIPPMAN JR.

September 13, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IT'S BACK-to-school time, and the debate over vouchers is heating up. California voters will soon decide whether to give parents a state voucher of $2,600 per schoolchild.

The parents can use this to take their kids out of public schools and pay tuition at private schools.

Proponents of this say poor children in the cities need a better choice than public schools but can't afford it. They say the poor deserve to have as much freedom to choose as the well-to-do.

Opponents counter with the argument that $2,600 isn't enough to pay for a decent private school education, so the poor kids will remain in the lousy public schools and the vouchers will simply subsidize the well-to-do who are already sending their kids to private schools.

I have an idea to resolve the conflict. It came to me when I heard a proponent of vouchers compare them to GI Bill educational grants.

In order to make sure that the vouchers target the poor in poor schools and don't go only to the undeserving rich, restrict them to children who have actually gone to those bad public schools.

Just as only veterans of the armed services could qualify for the GI Bill, so only veterans of public schools could qualify for vouchers. And not just any public schools. Some are quite good and quite safe. It's the others we all agree children need to be rescued from.

So in order to get a voucher for one year, a child would have to have gone for one year to a school where the educational achievement was below the state average, where the dropout rate was above the state average and where there had been an average of at least one shooting or three knifings per semester.

Thus a parent with a child in a really rotten school could persevere for six years, then get six years of vouchers to complete the child's education at a quality private school. (Or quality public school in the suburbs, if that was the choice.)

This plan also would solve the inadequacy of tuition problem. If only the children I have described could get vouchers, California could probably increase the amount to $5,200 or maybe even $10,400 a year at no more total cost than the no-questions-asked $2,600 plan that is going on the ballot.

That's just one of the many good ideas I have about education.

Here is another:

Schools should provide children with handguns and teach gun education. I know some will object to this, but the fact is, children in many schools in poor urban neighborhoods have guns anyway, so we should make sure they know how to use them properly.

A second advantage to this approach is that the schools could hand out Saturday Night Specials. If kids were shooting classmates and teachers with these low-caliber, unreliable, small-magazine weapons, there would be fewer deaths and less serious injuries than are caused by the expensive, well-made semi-automatic weapons that are the weapons of choice in today's schools.

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