WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Hugh B. Price, the president of the National Urban League, told United Press International Tuesday that he believes that school vouchers will lead to "gargantuan" public costs in the long run.
At a news breakfast with UPI editors and correspondents, Price said he believes the interest in school vouchers "reflects a very healthy impatience with the caliber of public schools in many cities. It is unreasonable to ask any parent to wait while school reform catches up with their children's needs."
But Price warned that in the view of many at the Urban League, one of the oldest and most conservative of the African American public interest groups, "the danger lies down the road.
"It is almost inevitable that in American politics there will be a push to widen access to this economic benefit. Once that happens, the costs to public sector will be gargantuan," Price said.
President George W. Bush has been a major supporter of a school voucher program that allows parents of a child in an unsatisfactory kindergarten to 12th grade public school to receive a voucher to pay for a private or religious school, and to deduct that payment from his federal taxes. The measure was included in Bush's educational reform bill last year, but the vouchers did not survive in the law.
Several school districts use vouchers and earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld a voucher program in an Ohio school district.
Price said that though there has never been a national election where school vouchers have been an issue, "that may materialize this year if the parties decide to make it an issue. It may well be an issue in the 2004 election."
Price's notion was that if vouchers became accepted, the next step would be tuition tax credits. "If you read Education Week just after the Supreme Court decision, headmasters of religious schools were lusting after vouchers, not because they had any desire to take inner city kids, but because they wanted the parents of the kids already enrolled those schools to get the economic benefit."
Price said he could see "ultra conservatives" someday arguing that vouchers, which benefit minority children, are tantamount to racial preferences and perpetuate class war. "I can see home schoolers arguing that they ought to get their tax dollars back in the form of vouchers because they are doing the job" he said.
"Spreading vouchers out beyond low income kids in struggling schools is deeply troubling. The prospect of widening availability could have a devastating impact on public funding of public schools," Price argues.
Price said vouchers establish the "illusion of choice," but not the reality of choice. "Established private schools do not want large numbers of inner city kids -- the Country Day Schools, the Sidwell Friends -- they are not looking for a lot of inner city kids. Maybe a few to make a statement."
He said that Catholic schools also have limited capacity. "So what is happening is that kids are going to newly created schools which may or may not be founded by people who know what they are doing."
In his view, instead of giving parents vouchers to abandon public schools, there needs to enormous efforts to improve public education.
"I believe very strongly that we have to awaken parents to the obligations and opportunities that they have ... to keep an eye on what schools are doing."