Parental choice continues to grow

Parental choice continues to grow

Kealey, Robert J

Since the last issue of Today’s Catholic Teacher, several important developments in the movement for parental choice in education have occurred.

U.S. Congress Supports Educational Choice

In late May, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a voucher program to provide scholarships for 2,000 poor children who have been attending ineffective schools in the District of Columbia. This was the first time that both houses of Congress passed legislation providing poor parents the means to send their children to the school of their choice. Congress has gone on record favoring children rather than unproductive institutions. Predictably, President Clinton vetoed the bill. One of his reasons was that it would help only 2,000 children. He completely ignored that fact that when a private voucher program was established for this school year over 7,500 parents in Washington, DC (almost 10 percent of the population with school-aged children) signed up for it. He also ignored the fact that two-thirds of African American parents in Washington favored such legislation.

$200 Million

Shortly after this veto, two philanthropists (New York City financier Theodore J. Forstmann and John T. Walton, son of the founder of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.) themselves pledged $100 million to launch a national privately financed voucher program. The Children’s Scholarship Fund would offer scholarships to as many as 50,000 poor students over the next four years. The program hopes to raise $200 million through matching funds. This will enable privately funded voucher programs to expand into many more cities across the country. In Wisconsin

Perhaps the most significant event was the action of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It found that providing vouchers to poor families in Milwaukee who send their children to religiously affiliated schools violated neither the Wisconsin Constitution nor the U.S.

Constitution. On the day of the decision, you could almost hear 15,000 children calling out what Martin Luther King, Jr., said on another occasion: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God we’re free at last!” These children and their parents were no longer held in bondage by ineffective city-run schools. Now parents had the means to send their children to the school of their choice. This Court action completed the work begun in 1925 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Pierce v. Society of Sisters said that parents had the right to send their children to the school of their choice. The Court affirmed that the State must give parents the means to exercise this freedom.

Action

The struggle for justice now shifts to the remaining 49 states. Hopefully this decision will encourage other states to pass similar legislation and eventually legislation for all students no matter what their economic status. As Catholic educators, we should be leaders in this movement, not just because its success will help our students and their families but because it will help all American students. Our efforts should focus on educating parents about the issues involved in the parental choice in education movement. We should be familiar with pending state and federal legislation. We need to remind parents and other parishioners that becoming politically active is an important practice of the virtue of justice. We must build coalitions with other groups who are concerned about ensuring that every child receives a quality education. Finally, we must pray that our elected officials will always put the good of children before political ideology and partisan politics.

Copyright Peter Li, Inc. Aug/Sep 1998

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