British Conservatives Push School Vouchers
July 7, 2008
London (CNSNews.com) - Britain's Conservative Party has unveiled a school voucher plan that will allow parents to use public money to send their children to independent schools.
Announcing the proposal at the party's annual conference, education spokesman Damian Green said the Conservatives would "revolutionize" Britain's educational system.
"It will offer a radical extension of school choice. It will allow all children to aspire to an excellent education," Green told the conference in Blackpool, England.
The government could pay out more than $5,000 per pupil per year under the plan, and Green said the project would start in inner-city London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
The party also has outlined proposals for parent-run charter schools and said it would eliminate university tuition fees instituted by the current Labor Party government.
"We believe that parents know what is best for their children. Not Tony Blair or (Education Secretary) Charles Clarke or me," Green said.
The school voucher programs - called "school passports" by the Tories - are part of a range of American-style reforms announced this week.
On Tuesday, the Conservatives said they wanted to hand control of police to city mayors and local authorities, in place of the current system, where cops answer to the national government's Home Office.
They also pledged to cut taxes if they are successful in the next general election, which must be held before 2006.
However, the Conservative Party and its leader, Iain Duncan Smith, have been hit this week by a series of polls showing that they have failed to connect with voters.
Although Blair has been buffeted by public criticism over Iraq and the inquiry into the death of a government weapons expert, polls have shown that the Conservatives have yet to capitalize on the ruling party's misfortune.
Much of the criticism has focused on Duncan Smith, who has been dogged by party bickering and portrayed in the British media as an ineffectual leader.
A poll in The Times newspaper on Monday found that 56 percent of Conservative voters and 36 percent of the public at large would be more likely to support the party under a different leader.
Duncan Smith has shrugged off the polls, declaring that he has no intention of stepping down.
"We are going to win the next election, I promise you," he told reporters. "This week is about the alternative. We are the alternative and we are heading for government."
School voucher programs in several U.S. cities including Milwaukee and Cleveland have been delayed in the past by lawsuits, with opponents charging that funding independent religious schools with public money violates the First Amendment.
While fewer legal obstacles stand in the way of the British passport plan, the proposals received immediate criticism from the Labor Party and teacher's groups.
"Vouchers have been bitterly divisive in the United States," said John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers. "They have damaged successful schools. Parental choice is an illusion and the organization of effective education has been undermined."
"Schemes such as this are based on the false assumption that independent schools, per se, are better than state schools," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, a principal's organization. "This is manifestly not the case and governments of all political persuasions should invest in the state system that they lead."
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