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web posted September 10, 2001
57 per cent of Canadians back school vouchers
Most Canadians support a voucher system that would allow parents to use public money allocated for their child's education toward the cost of private schooling, a National Post/Global poll has found.
Vouchers do not exist in Canada and are not being considered by any of the provinces. Yet in the poll of nearly 800 people, 57 per cent of respondents said they support the idea. Thirty-six per cent were opposed and 7 per cent gave no response.
"People clearly want choice and appear to be ahead of their own governments," said Helen Raham, executive director of the Society for Advancement of Excellence in Education, an independent research group in British Columbia.
Support is greatest in the Atlantic provinces, at 66 per cent , and in Quebec, where 65 per cent want vouchers. There is also majority support in Ontario (52 per cent), Manitoba and Saskatchewan (51 per cent), Alberta (59 per cent) and British Columbia (53 per cent).
The results suggest an "overwhelming appetite for reform," said Fred Wall, a researcher at COMPAS, which conducted the poll. "People want not only to be able to hold ministries and schools accountable, but if they feel the outcomes are not satisfactory they want the choice of going elsewhere."
The poll also found many Canadians are concerned education is deteriorating: 46 per cent of Canadians believe schools are worse than when they were educated, while 42 per cent believe schools are better. In Ontario, where schools have been disrupted by continual labour strife, there is the greatest discontent. Fifty-nine per cent of respondents believe schools are getting worse, compared with 29 per cent who say they are improving.
In other regions, there is less anxiety. In the Atlantic provinces, 32 per cent say schools are worse, while 61 per cent believe they are better. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 37 per cent believe schools are worse and 56 per cent believe they are improving.
The poll shows Canadians put the greatest trust in private schools and teachers, while they are the least confident about public schools, ministries of education and teachers' unions. Private schools and teachers are singled out as the most likely to be doing the best job and the least likely to be doing a bad job. Respondents gave them a C+ grade for performance, while they gave public schools a C-. Education ministries and teachers' unions received a D.
Jim Christopher, executive director of the Canadian Educational Standards Institute, a non-profit group that monitors and accredits independent schools, said the level of dissatisfaction about public schools explains the majority support for vouchers.
"People are saying, 'Even if there is choice in the public system, I don't see anything worth choosing.'"
The poll shows vouchers are favoured by 68 per cent of Canadian Alliance supporters, 57 per cent of Liberals and 70 per cent of Bloc Québécois voters but are opposed by 54 per cent of NDP voters.
The COMPAS pollsters deliberately avoided using the word voucher in the question because the term is often used by special interest groups without proper explanation, said Mr. Wall of COMPAS. Instead, people were given the definition of a voucher and asked if they supported the idea. They were asked "if parents today should be allowed to send their child to a parent-funded school and allocate to that school whatever government money would have been spent at a government-funded school if the child had gone there instead."
In the United States, voucher systems have been successfully introduced in several states and have been in place for more than a decade. Wisconsin first implemented a voucher program in Milwaukee in 1990. A recent study by researchers at Harvard, Georgetown and the University of Wisconsin found poor black students in Dayton, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and New York used vouchers to outperform their peers by 7 per cent in reading and math exams.
George W. Bush, the U.S. President, advocated a federal voucher program but removed any reference to the idea from an education bill in June when it became clear it did not have enough support in the House of Representatives or Senate. Mr. Bush and other Republicans favour a voucher system because they believe parents should be able to remove their children from failing public schools. Joe Lieberman, Al Gore's vice-presidential candidate, also fought a solitary battle for years to try to persuade Democrats they should advocate vouchers.
Chile has the most extensive voucher system in the world. Vouchers were introduced in 1980 and educators say the system has improved student achievement and made the public system more accountable.
In Canada, every province, with the exception of the Atlantic ones, funds some level of private education. Most provinces give a set amount per pupil to independent and religious schools. Ontario is introducing a different system that gives money for private schooling directly to parents through a tax credit, which will be worth up to $3,500 per student.
The poll shows Canadians also want greater choice in the public system. A large majority, 74 per cent, think parents should be able to send their child to any public school and not be limited to the one in their neighbourhood.
The survey of 785 people was conducted between Aug. 17 and 20. The findings are considered accurate to within approximately 3.5 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
Reno: 'I am running for governor'
Former Attorney General Janet Reno announced September 4 that she is running to become the next governor of Florida.
"I am running for governor," Reno, a Democrat, told CNN. "Today we opened a campaign account, filed our papers with the secretary of state and will now move forward to raise money and to build a campaign organization."
Joel Mynard, administrative assistant for the office, said two forms were filed: one appointing a campaign treasurer and designating a campaign depository.
"The other paper is a statement of candidate," he said. "She's on our announced candidate list for governor."
If she wins the Democratic nomination, Reno, 63, would almost certainly face Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of President George W. Bush.
"I had talked with the people of Florida, to so many people from all across Florida, and I think they share my vision for the future," Reno said. "I want to build the best educational system in the country for Florida."
The gubernatorial contest would likely turn into one of the hottest races in the country in 2002, touching on such issues as Elian Gonzalez, the disputed presidential recount in Florida, and Reno's controversial tenure as attorney general in the Clinton administration.
A native of Miami, Reno returned to her home state after leading the Justice Department for eight years. She had served as Dade County state's attorney for 10 years before joining the Clinton administration.
She disclosed her possible interest in a run for the governor's office in May, and at that time, she discounted the suggestion that her Parkinson's disease -- a neurological disorder that causes involuntary tremors -- would hurt her prospective candidacy."If you could survive eight years in Washington, with the press corps in Washington, with Congress in Washington, and go at it as I did, and then come home and kayak down the Chattooga, the Nantahala and the Ocoee in three days and come out of it without having stumped your boat, you're doing pretty good," Reno told CNN in May. "I think I can do it, otherwise I wouldn't be here."
If she follows through with the filing and decides to run for governor, Reno would likely face a battle for Florida's Cuban-American vote because of her handling of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was rescued off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day in 1999 only to be seized by U.S. authorities many months later so he could be returned to his father in Cuba.
"I don't expect that I will get people to agree with me," she said of the Cuban-American community, "but I think that they will come to understand the reason I did what I did."
The Division of Elections' Web site lists 10 other Democratic candidates for governor in Florida.
Phil Gramm of Texas to leave Senate
Texas Republican Phil Gramm said September 4 he will leave the Senate at the end of his third term next year, closing out a career as an unflinching advocate of lower taxes and less government. [read his speech here]
"I have always been happy with the tax cuts I've supported," Gramm said at a news conference where he sometimes grew emotional. He quickly added, "I still believe that government is too big, too powerful and too expensive and too intrusive," and he urged a capital gains tax cut this fall.
Gramm, 59, said he has made no plans for life after politics. A former economics professor at Texas A&M, he sidestepped questions about the school's presidency, which is vacant.
Gramm is the third Republican senator to disclose plans to retire in 2002. Jesse Helms, 79, of North Carolina, announced last month that his fifth term would be his last. Strom Thurmond, of South Carolina, is 98 and near the end of his career.
A fourth Republican, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, has yet to declare his intentions. In all, there are 21 Republican seats on the ballot in 2002, compared to 14 for the Democrats, all of whose incumbents are expected to seek new terms.
Democrats currently control the Senate, 50-49, with one independent, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, who caucuses with them.
In a statement, President Bush , a fellow Texan, said Gramm "has been a consistent and committed advocate of tax relief for working Americans, beginning with his work on President Reagan's tax cut in 1981 ... and continuing with his tireless efforts to pass this year's monumental tax relief package."
Gramm was elected to the House in 1978 as a Democrat. Appointed to the House Budget Committee by fellow Democrats in 1981, he worked secretly with Republicans to pass then-President Reagan's budget, with tax and spending cuts and a big increase in the Pentagon's budget. The landmark spending-cut legislation carries his name.
Later stripped of his committee assignment, he resigned his House seat following re-election. He promptly won it back as a Republican in a special election in 1983, then used it as a springboard to the Senate in 1984. He has been easily elected ever since, and was a safe bet for re-election next year.
But his brand of politics proved unsuccessful outside the state. A run for the GOP presidential nomination collapsed in 1996 when he finished fifth in the leadoff Iowa caucuses.
At the same time, Gramm steadily gathered influence inside the Senate GOP. As chairman of the Senate campaign committee, he helped usher in the GOP majority in the 1994 elections. A few months later, he helped Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott - now the GOP leader - gain a leadership post.
Gramm has been a relentless foe of big government, willing to clash with Democrats and Republicans alike on the subject. Chairman of the Banking Committee until Democrats gained a Senate majority this year, he played important roles in passing comprehensive banking legislation, which President Clinton signed into law, as well as a bankruptcy bill still pending.
At his news conference, Gramm made use of his trademark folksy rhetoric and biting partisanship. He said he had called Dicky Flatt - a Mexia, Texas, printer whom he frequently cites as an example of the voters who "do the work, pay the taxes and pull the wagon" in Texas.
As for the Democrats, he dismissed their criticism that President Bush's tax cut was eroding federal surpluses. "I mean, these are the same people that for the next three months are going to be screaming for more spending. I don't understand how politically they can possibly gain from what they're doing," he said.
Gramm said he was leaving because his goals - the balanced budget, tax cuts, welfare reform, Communism's decline - had been accomplished. "I am proud to be able to say today that not only did I fight for these things, not only did I play a leadership role in each and every one, but that in a very real sense, 25 years later these goals have been achieved."
Gramm said he was confident his successor would be a Republican, but Democrats disputed that. "The Texas Senate race, until this morning considered to be a seat safely in Republican hands, has now become a battleground state," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, head of the Democratic campaign committee.
Several names have surfaced as potential candidates.
Among Republicans, they include Rep. Henry Bonilla and three statewide elected officials, Attorney General John Cornyn, railroad commissioner Tony Garza and land commissioner David Dewhurst. Potential Democratic contenders included Rep. Ken Bentsen, former Rep. John Bryant, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and former state Attorney General Dan Morales.
Poll says some Hispanics are against amnesty
Mexican President Vincente Fox on September 5 pressed the White House to reach an agreement before the end of the year on the question of providing amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants living and working in the United States.
Supporters of amnesty for the more than 3 million Mexicans living in the United States say such a move would help improve ties with Mexico, extend workforce protections and benefits to Mexicans working in the United States, and relieve stress from an overburdened immigration system.
But a poll released last week from the Center of Immigration Studies/Zogby International may complicate matters for President Bush, who has said he supports some form of amnesty.
According to the poll, 55 percent of U.S. citizens including 51 percent of Hispanics believe its a "very bad idea" to grant amnesty. And 33 percent of Hispanics said they would be less likely to vote for Bush if he continued to pursue amnesty.
"The payoff (for supporting amnesty) is supposed to be greater support from Hispanics, but there seem to be no indication of that," said Steve Camarata, director of research for the Center of Immigration Studies.
Bush has made courting the Hispanic vote a cornerstone of his political agenda, and his support for amnesty was widely believed to be in keeping with that strategy.
The survey, taken of 1,020 likely voters nationwide between August 25 and August 29, also found that there is little difference between Republican and Democrats on this issue.
But some immigration and political experts believe that the way the poll questions were worded might have influenced the results.
"I think using 'amnesty' that one word it suggests that all illegals will be excused," said Michael Barone, author of the book, The New Americans, which traces immigration patterns during the 20th century.
Barone said that any new policy would have to consider the immigrants criminal record, working status or family situation before extending legal status. And he suggested that if the question were to equate amnesty with providing "legal status to people who are in fact working, upholding the law and behaving constructively," more of those polled may have answered in support of the amnesty idea.
Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., who represents a district with a significant illegal immigrant population from Mexico and supports amnesty measures, said she was thrilled to hear President Fox talk so passionately about his hope for a new policy with the United States and she, too, believes the poll should have been worded differently.
"Amnesty" is a "derogatory word," she said. "What were trying to do is help those people who are helping us out those who came here and established themselves. Its all about how you word the question."
Barone concedes that point. "Those who have become U.S. citizens and legal residents may not be entirely sympathetic with those not following the rules," he added.
Camarata maintains "the questions were very neutral" and that the pollsters were careful not to use words like "alien," which they knew would have skewed results against amnesty.
"What we tried to do is go right down the middle," he said.
But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said none of these distinctions matter and he opposes amnesty on principle.
"Anyone who broke the law to get here is a lawbreaker and shouldnt be here," he said. "Mexican-Americans and other legal Hispanic immigrants are hurt hardest by illegal immigration and they know it; thats why they dont support it," Rohrabacher said.
He said most Hispanics who arrive in the U.S. illegally "just want to help their families, work hard and not rob anyone theyre wonderful people," but the U.S. is allowed to absorb a million legal immigrants annually, and that is all the system can take.
"And that is more than any other country combined takes in we have nothing to be embarrassed about."
Elian denied trip to U.N.
The Cuban government denied September 6 that Elian Gonzalez will travel to the United Nations for a conference on children, and promised that the 7-year-old boy would never be used for political purposes.
Time Magazine recently reported that Cuban officials were deciding whether to send the boy at the center of last year's international custody battle to a U.N. children's summit Sept. 19-20 in New York.
In a letter published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, Cuba's Foreign Ministry called the article "unfounded and irresponsible."
"The ministry wishes to express that in no moment has there been
any consideration of Elian traveling to the U.N. event," the letter
said, adding that the boy has "never been used nor will become a
propaganda or international political tool."
It was the first response on the report from the Cuban government in Havana.
Elian's father denied his son might travel to the United Nations while taking the third-grader to his first day of classes the day before the government's denial. Cuban officials in Washington have also disputed the report.
NOW retreats from Yates support
The National Organization for Women is retreating from its support of accused child killer Andrea P. Yates, claiming it is only trying to ensure that the Yates tragedy sparks a long-overdue discussion of mental illness and the death penalty.
In a statement released September 6, NOW president Kim Gandy blamed the media for misinterpreting its position and said the organization had not established a legal defense fund for Yates the Texas mother accused of drowning her five children does not excuse her crime and was not raising money for her.
Gandy said that NOW was speaking out on the Yates case to "call attention to the need for better response by the medical community, law enforcement and the judiciary to the problem of postpartum depression and psychosis."
The Houston-area NOW chapter's actions in support of Yates from fundraising for her legal defense to planning a candlelight vigil this week outside the Texas jail where Yates is incarcerated in the psychiatric ward have been controversial and drawn some harsh criticism to the national organization.
In fact, the statement was issued just as demonstrators were assembling for a protest outside the organization's national headquarters in Washington.
"It's wrong to kill your children and use your hormones as an excuse," Audrey Mullen, a spokesperson for the Independent Women's Action Project, the group that sponsored the demonstration, told the Washington Times during the rally.
In the statement, Gandy defended the Houston chapter by saying it had only "directed concerned people to a fund already set up by Yates' lawyers," but made clear that NOW's interest in the case sits squarely with the larger issues it poses: the death penalty being applied to mentally ill defendants, and the failure of the medical and judicial system to prevent what emerging evidence suggests was a totally avoidable tragedy.
"Texas' desire to put to death a person who may be mentally ill should shock the nation's conscience," Gandy said.
Yates, a 37-year-old mother of five, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to drowning to death her five children Noah, 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and Mary, 6-months in the bathtub of her Clear Lake, Texas home June 20. She is facing the death penalty on capital murder charges in the deaths of three of the children.
"We are asking questions that need to be asked," Gandy said in the statement. Among those questions, she said, were why Yates was released from the hospital in such a depressed state, why she was not given help with her children after leaving the hospital, whether her doctors had adequately informed her family about the dangers of her condition, and why she was not receiving the proper medical care for her condition.
"Most importantly, why aren't the Texas authorities asking these questions?" Gandy asked in the statement.
But many others including many feminists and women's groups have been outraged and offended that groups like NOW would in any way excuse the murder of five children under any circumstances.
"I don't think we should make excuses for murder," Bishop Imagene
Stewart of the African American Women's Clergy Association said during
the demonstration. "If we let her get away with this, other women
who are mad at their husbands will do it too, and just plead
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