New ACLU Report Says CA's Proposed Voucher Program Leaves Neediest Behind

October 11, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES–In a new report debunking the promises of a proposed ballot initiative authorizing private and religious school vouchers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today said that the program will not address serious inequalities in California schools.

The ballot initiative, known as Proposition 38, would authorize school vouchers statewide in the amount of $4,000 per pupil for private and religious schools.

“The vast majority of private and religious schools — 78 percent in one survey — select only students who are performing at grade level or above,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “That means that the students whose education has suffered the most in public schools are the very ones who don’t stand a chance of leaving them.”

The ACLU released the report today at a news conference joined by leaders from the African American community, the Latino community, the disability rights community, the Jewish community, and the civil rights community.

In its analysis of the geographic distribution of private and religious school seats in Los Angeles County, the ACLU showed that the numbers of private school seats per capita are lower in areas with higher percentages of African American residents, with higher percentages of Latino residents, and with lower per capita income.

“There’s a gap between the resources offered to rich and to poor students and a gap between those provided to students of color and to white students,” Ripston said. “But to close a gap you need a bridge, and Prop. 38 is no bridge. It simply presents us with another gap in a different sector and calls it a solution.”

In fact, a 1998 U.S. Department of Education survey of private schools revealed that only 15 to 31 percent of private schools surveyed would participate in a voucher program if they were required to accept students with special needs, such as learning disabilities, limited English proficiency, or low achievement.

Other speakers at the news conference raised questions about the real-life hurdles families will face when trying to access vouchers, including transportation costs, discrimination on the basis of academic preparation, discrimination on the basis of language ability, private schools’ lower rates of participation in free or reduced-cost lunch programs, and discrimination based on ability to pay.

“Vouchers are not a reform movement or solution to the problems of public education,” said Rev. James Lawson. “Black and brown children are not the ones who stand the most to gain from the passage of Proposition 38; it’s the affluent children already in private schools.”

Antonio Villaraigosa, former Speaker of the California Assembly, agreed. “Here in California, we’re beginning at last to realize that a multi-ethnic, multicultural society cannot pick and choose which children to value,” he said. “A multicultural society cannot survive without building a common platform to launch our multitude of dreams.”

The issue of equal access was also a concern of the disability rights community. Religious schools are exempt from the two pieces of federal civil rights education that guarantee students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education: the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. In addition, only about nine percent of private and religious schools in Los Angeles County offer special education.

The community leaders who came together to address access issues at today’s press conference included:

Hon. Antonio Villaraigosa, Assemblymember of the 45th District, former Speaker of the California Assembly, and Board member of the ACLU of Southern California; Rev. James Lawson, former vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a Board member of the ACLU of Southern California. Rev. Lawson recently retired after 45 years as a minister; Rev. Norman Johnson, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Vice President of the Southern California Affiliate of the Congress of National Black Churches; Eve Hill, Executive Director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights; Angela Sambrano; Central American Resource Center (CARECEN); Daniel Kovatch, Executive Director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance; and Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California.

The ACLU of Southern California report is available online at

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