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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 15, 2002

School vouchers get no support

 •  Where the candidates stand

This is the first in an occasional series in which The Advertiser will ask the leading candidates for governor questions on a variety of issues of public interest.

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

The five leading candidates for governor all oppose the use of vouchers to let parents use government money to help pay to send their children to private schools, with some candidates warning that a voucher system would greatly damage Hawai'i's struggling public education system.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that it is constitutional to use public money to pay tuition for some students at religious schools, a decision that supporters believe will step up the national debate over vouchers. Vouchers essentially let parents take tax money that would have gone to support public schools and instead spend it on private school tuition. Only Republican Linda Lingle left the voucher possibility open for certain students, saying she wants to "explore" vouchers as an option for special education students who are not adequately served by the public school system.

Lingle said she opposes vouchers for regular education students.

Lingle's primary-election opponent, John Carroll, said he opposes vouchers because they would in effect move all of the most qualified public school students into the private school system, leaving the public schools with "people who couldn't qualify."

Democrat D.G. "Andy" Anderson called vouchers "an admission of failure" because they signal that parents want to leave the public school system behind.

Anderson said the state already contracts with private schools for services for special education students, so Lingle's suggestion that vouchers might be used for them is really nothing new.

Anderson has proposed what he calls the Pineapple Lottery to raise money and increase spending on public schools. He also said he is pleased with the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires failing schools to allow their students to transfer to another school, because it has shaken up the educational establishment.

Rep. Ed Case, a Democrat, said he supports enhanced school choice within the public school system, charter schools and magnet schools, but called vouchers "exactly the wrong way to go." Instead of fixing public schools, vouchers would make the schools' problems worse by stripping away resources, he said.

Case said people have a social obligation to finance public education, and they are still obligated to help pay for the school system even if they choose to remove their children from public schools.

Case said he would continue to propose decentralization and other reforms as governor, but would veto a voucher bill.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono said vouchers are prohibited by the state constitution, and are unwise because they remove money from public education. Even with vouchers, students from poor families would be unable to afford tuition at Hawai'i's elite private schools, she said.

"Most of the kids in our state have to go to public schools, so my commitment is to the public schools," she said.

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