School choice supporters fail to put measure on California ballot

School choice will not be on the ballot in November.

The man who led an initiative campaign to provide $14,000 per student to parents and guardians to select the private or religious school of their choice has acknowledged that the campaign fell far short of the signatures needed to present the measure to voters.

In an email to supporters last week, Michael Alexander, president of California School Choice Initiative, said the campaign would collect around 200,000 signatures before the 180-day deadline to submit them on April 11. This represents 20% of the 997,000 verified signatures required and less than a seventh of the campaign’s goal of 1.5 million signatures to ensure the initiative would qualify.

“Although this is well below the required number, we can boast of an incredible effort,” he wrote, promising to try again in 2024.

Unlike a school voucher, which sends tuition money to the private school of a family’s choice, The Freedom of Education Act created an education savings account in the parents’ name. They would have designated a private or religious school and used any money left over after tuition and expenses like tutoring to save for post-baccalaureate study plans, whether it was a vocational program or a college. a middle-school.

The state would have funded the average public funding per student under the Local Control Funding Formula—initially $14,000—through the general fund and property taxes. The Office of the Legislative Analyst estimated that the initiative would have cost the state between $4.7 billion and $7 billion per year. Eight states have adopted college savings accounts in January 2021, according to school choice advocacy organization EdChoice.

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Advocates hoped that dissatisfaction with remote learning and a slow restart of schools when COVID-19 recedes would fuel support. Although two previous school-choice initiatives in California — to create school checks — got no more than 30 percent of the vote in 1994 and 2000, a 2021 poll commissioned by the California Policy Centera conservative think tank, found that 54% of 800 voters polled said they would support an education savings account initiative, 34% opposed it and 12% were undecided.

“It should be an ideal year,” said Lance Christensen, the center’s vice president of education policy and government affairs, which helped draft the initiative. “Parents feel really handicapped and limited in their choice of education for their children and providing a savings account to use for any school would have been a huge blessing.”

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But internal fissures, a lack of money and bad timing shattered the chances of a measure passing, not to mention the resources needed to counter a multi-million effort to defeat it by the California Teachers Association.

A failure to reach agreement on wording initially led to two competing initiatives last year. Fix Californialed by Ric Grinell, President Trump’s former ambassador to Germany, backtracked last fall, leaving an underfunded campaign.

Alexander, who previously led the Pasadena Patriots, an offshoot of the Tea Party, had raised just $421,000 as of Dec. 31, including $400,000 from a single donor, Dale Broome, a Redlands radiologist. This left the campaign without the estimated $7-10 million needed to hire professional signature collectors.

“Any major ballot proposal should have millions of dollars in the bank before they send out the first petition. It’s nearly impossible to get initiative on the ballot through volunteers,” said Christensen, who announced his own campaign last month to challenge outgoing state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in november. The omicron surge has compounded the challenge of soliciting voter signatures

In his email to supporters last week, Alexander acknowledged that the initiative faces long odds. “Consider this for a moment: If 100 political consultants were asked to put together a list of the 20 toughest political projects in the state of California, ranking them by money required to qualify for the ballot, the amount of money that would be spent on the opposition and the fierceness of the opposition, the choice of school would undoubtedly top the list as the most difficult and costly,” he wrote.

But he said it could be done: “In the coming weeks we will outline our strategy to ensure school choice is on the ballot in 2024. We plan to start collecting signatures again early in 2023. Fundraising for this effort has already begun. ”

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