Candidate looks to vouchers to improve system

By Brian Bergstein The Associated Press
Thursday December 13, 2001

PALO ALTO — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon said Wednesday that big school districts like the one in Los Angeles should be broken up, and he suggested offering some form of vouchers to students at underperforming schools. 

In a lunchtime speech to 60 technology executives in a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto, Simon also said he would require as many schools as possible to provide child care and after-hours programs, “so we can begin to end the era of the latchkey child.” 

Citing the poor physical condition of California schools and their low rankings on standardized tests, Simon said that if “privatizing” schools is not possible, “then let us certainly privatize their thinking.” 

That means fixing dilapidated schools quickly, working more closely with parents and breaking large districts into smaller units, he said. 

“Big school districts, big school campuses and big school bureaucracies, more often than not, fail,” he said, citing the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest, as an example. “Kids need individual attention and custom-tailored solutions.” 

Simon said he would give administrators, teachers and parents a range of choices for how to improve bad schools. 

Those options, Simon said, should include sending in a “red team” of state experts; providing what he called “opportunity scholarships” to students; approving new charter schools or bringing in a private company to run the schools in question. 

When questioned by reporters after the speech, Simon declined to specify what he meant by “opportunity scholarships,” although many voucher supporters use the two terms interchangeably. 

Simon said he supports some aspects of school voucher programs, but he added that he respected California voters’ overwhelming opposition to a voucher proposition in 2000. 

Schools should be required to provide morning and afternoon programs to teach music, art and other skills, Simon said, but he declined to suggest how the state could pay for such programs. His press secretary, Bob Taylor, acknowledged that finding money for them would be difficult. 

Simon, a Los Angeles businessman and former federal prosecutor, is seeking the GOP nomination for governor March 5 against former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and California Secretary of State Bill Jones. The winner will face Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in November. 

In earlier speeches, Simon has called for trimming state spending and cutting certain taxes. 

Simon’s father, William Simon, was treasury secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford. 

Taylor said Simon will largely fund his campaign himself but will also seek outside donations. When asked if there was a limit to how much Simon would spend, Taylor replied, “Not really.” Simon’s recently filed financial disclosure forms show his fortune is worth at least $22 million and probably much higher, given the forms’ vague disclosure requirements. 


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