Lines are drawn, and the battle will be waged on a November statewide special-election ballot. On one side are a large number of California parents frustrated with the public-school system. In opposition are an equally large number of teachers, school administrators, and their unions. Somewhere, in the middle, are the children.

The Parent Choice in Education Initiative, Proposition 174, would amend the California Constitution to provide parents with a yearly voucher for each child’s education. The vouchers, worth $2,600—approximately half what is now spent by the state to educate public-school students—could be used at any public, private, or religious school.

Ballot battles have been fought before, with Colorado and Oregon recently rejecting voucher initiatives. But the stakes are higher in California, with its 5.2 million public-school students and annual $25 billion kindergarten-through-twelfth grade budget. Odd alliances have formed in supporting the initiative, with the Religious Right joined by low-income minority advocates.

A question of choice

“The problem is that we have a public-school system that is not only low on quality, but offers very few options for families,” says Yes On 174 spokesperson Alan Bonsteel. “Elementary fairness asks that everyone have the right to choose the best possible education for their children.”

Supporters believe the empowerment will result in public schools reducing class size, offering incentives Bonsteel to good teachers, and taking stronger action against on-site crime and drugs.

Some concerns of opponents are that Proposition 174 will undermine funding for public schools, that only the affluent who already have children in private schools will benefit, and that it will destroy the “melting ...

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