California voters reject vouchers

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper spent $23 million in support of the most radical voucher proposal ever -- and lost.

Published November 8, 2000 5:03AM (EST)

What can $23 million buy a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist in this election? A humiliating defeat.

By a huge margin, California voters flunked a school voucher initiative, Proposition 38, which would have given $4,000 vouchers to students electing to attend private or parochial schools. With all the precincts reporting, 71 percent of Californian voters rejected the measure.

Unlike most other voucher programs, the California program would have applied to any of the state's 6 million schoolchildren, not just low-income students electing to opt out of failing schools. Michigan voters also resoundingly rejected, 69-31 percent, a narrower voucher proposition, a measure that would have subsidized the private school education of students fleeing failing public schools.

Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson poured $23 million of his own money into the Proposition 38 campaign. And despite the loss, Draper vowed to take his voucher campaign nationwide. "This is the beginning of a movement that is going to change the way people are educated," he said at a Republican election party Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The other education measure on the California ballot backed by Silicon Valley money passed by a narrow margin. Supported by venture capitalist John Doerr and John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, the proposition lowered the threshold for local school bonds to pass from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent. Doerr, his family and business associates spent more than $8 million on the measure. Some 53 percent of voters approved it.

The two initiatives represented diametrically opposed approaches to reforming public school education. Draper's failed voucher measure would have attempted to introduce free-market forces into the system with the idea that market pressures would force the public institutions to improve to compete with private schools. The bond initiative makes it easier for local districts to raise more money from taxpayers to fund school improvements.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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