School voucher initiative fails to win voter support

SACRAMENTO: Despite communications support from a team of high-level Beltway consultants and the backing of celebrity venture capitalist Tim Draper, a California school vouchers initiative went down in flames in last week's election.

SACRAMENTO: Despite communications support from a team of high-level Beltway consultants and the backing of celebrity venture capitalist Tim Draper, a California school vouchers initiative went down in flames in last week's election.

SACRAMENTO: Despite communications support from a team of high-level Beltway consultants and the backing of celebrity venture capitalist Tim Draper, a California school vouchers initiative went down in flames in last week's election.

Proposition 38, which would have provided all school-age children in CA with a dollars 4,000 annual stipend to use for private school tuition, won over only 30% of the state's voters.

Although there is a long history of anti-voucher sentiment, especially among teachers' unions in CA, Proposition 38's overwhelming defeat came as a surprise, given the recent criticism of the state's education system.

However, according to many West Coast political experts, the initiative's defeat could be blamed on an ill-advised messaging and positioning strategy.

'The 'Yes' side did everything wrong,' said Jeff Randle, EVP of Stoorza Communications' Sacramento office.

'It used the V-word. Vouchers do not sell in California. The CTA (California Teachers Association) has spent millions over the past seven years pounding home the message against vouchers.'

Fleishman-Hillard/Sacramento VP Chris Thompson thought the 'Yes on 38' team could have made a stronger argument emphasizing the value of competition and comparing vouchers to college scholarships. However, he conceded: 'The effort was probably doomed from the start - asking for such sweeping change and biting too much to chew right from the start.'

'Yes on 38''s press secretary, Chris Bertelli, countered: 'The 'No' side didn't have a problem stepping over and around the truth. It muddied the waters and misled voters by saying vouchers would hurt kids and cost billions with no basis in fact for either.'

Jon Lenzner, press secretary for 'No on 38,' conceded that his side was aided by favorable editorials (42 newspapers sided with the 'No' side, against only three who ran pro-38 endorsements), as well as by a multi-page spread in September 20's San Francisco Chronicle about a study comparing vouchers to 'welfare for the rich.' But Lenzner also said focusing on a specific message helped.

'Our primary message is that people would choose to improve their public schools rather than abandoning them with a voucher initiative,' he explained.

Bertelli pointed out that his side had the much more difficult PR job.

'On the no side, all you have to do is raise the specter of doubt, and something won't pass.'



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