Monday, March 24, 2003

School Choice in Compton

If there is anyplace in California that needs more competition and choice, Compton is the place. The Los Angeles Times reports on a pretty much doomed bill to give kids in Compton a way out.

The Compton experiment would be modeled after the highly popular Cal Grant program for college students, which provides the financially neediest students with grants of as much as $9,708 a year to pay tuition and student fees.

Haynes refused to detail his strategy for getting the bill approved in a Legislature dominated by Democrats who oppose vouchers. But he indicated that packaging the subsidies as scholarships similar to Cal Grant subsidies would make the bill more attractive to Democrats.

The plan would get a five-year test run, starting Jan. 1. The results would be evaluated and decisions made on whether to expand it elsewhere.

As a potential model for the rest of the state, Haynes said, Compton "was a good place to start.... What we need in Compton is a revolution." . . .

Haynes identified the sponsors of his bill as about 50 Compton parents and a nonprofit organization known as the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, a conservative, religion-based think tank with an office in Los Angeles. It was founded by commentator Star Parker, a one-time Los Angeles welfare mother who wrote the book "Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats."

"We wanted to submit a bill that had to be taken seriously. We did not want a bill that would be thrown out because it was not constitutionally acceptable or credible," said Timothy McGhee, the organization's director of community affairs.

But Haynes said it will be very difficult to push the bill through the Legislature and get it signed by Gov. Gray Davis, who opposes vouchers. Haynes said he told the Compton parents that it would take lots of work and expansion of their group of 50 parents to "something more like 10,000" for the bill to succeed.

If a scholarship/voucher program passes in Washington DC, then these other urban public-school sinkholes will have more of a fighting chance.

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