School choice option not forgotten Slow progress: City parents may seek alternatives if reforms don't work.

March 15, 1998

WITH CONGRESS debating whether to initiate a federal voucher program for Washington schoolchildren, Baltimoreans have to ask themselves whether that discussion should recur here.

When a settlement of a lawsuit demanding better schools appeared remote two years ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke preached the virtues of school choice. He said it might be better to give parents that option than sentence their children to Baltimore's poorly performing schools.

Mr. Schmoke appointed a task force that issued a report paving the way for a possible voucher experiment. But it never happened.

A Republican plan in Congress would provide $3,200 scholarships to some 2,000 children in the District of Columbia. They would also be eligible for $500 each for tutoring assistance. The plan faces a likely veto by President Clinton, but the idea won't die. A voucher program in Cleveland is being hailed as a success.

Those who argue that any dollar put into a voucher program is a dollar taken from public schools may be right. But people have a right to ask how long they should wait to see their dollars produce results.

Baltimore schools are getting an extra $254 million in state aid over the next five years, but teachers now are forced to cut back on books and supplies because of misspending by the Amprey regime at school headquarters a few years ago. That's a distressing sign as the first year of school reform nears an end.

School choice may yet become an option if Baltimore's leaders cannot find ways to make the current reform effort work.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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