Voucher Decision Hasn’t Quelled Opposition

Bush Stands By His Support of Supreme Court Ruling

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CLEVELAND, Ohio, JULY 1, 2002 (Zenit.org).- U.S. President George W. Bush called the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of school vouchers «a great victory» for educational equality.

His comment came today during a speech here in the wake of last week’s court ruling. The court voted 5-4 to uphold the constitutionality of the Cleveland program which allows government vouchers to be used by parents at private and religious schools of their choice.

One of the most extreme negative reactions to the court’s decision has come from Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor of Slate, published by MSNBC last Thursday. The voucher judgment means that «the so-called wall between church and state has been demolished in Cleveland and will soon be demolished around the country.»

A number of newspaper editorials were also critical, among them the New York Times and its sister, the Boston Globe.

According to the Times on Friday, «It was a bad decision on constitutional grounds, and a bad one for American education. … Voucher programs like Cleveland’s siphon off public dollars, leaving struggling urban systems with less money for skilled teachers, textbooks and computers.»

The Los Angeles Times also published an editorial Friday criticizing the decision. The editorial declared: «The economic might of the United States was built on universal public schooling.» The editorial fretted that «Temples, madrassas and various churches will teach in their preferred ways, and too many charlatans will find that the religious tent protects them as well.»

In contrast, the Washington Post welcomed the decision. «The dangers of vouchers are hypothetical ones at this stage,» a Friday editorial said. «The crisis in education is real. And the court should not be insisting that the only lawful policies are the ones that have already failed.»

The Post also noted that the money in fact goes to parents, not directly to religious schools, and the parents can choose to use these funds at any participating private school.

«When one considers the full range of school choices available to parents, it becomes implausible to argue that anyone is being forced into religious education,» argued the Post editorial.

Writing the same day an opinion article for the Post on the matter was Rod Paige, U.S. secretary of education.

«At issue in this case was the future of thousands of low-income students stuck in some of the most poorly performing schools in the country,» he explained.

The Supreme Court decision «recognized not only the compelling need for children and families to acquire a decent education but also the importance of parents’ being able to do something when their children’s schools don’t work,» said Paige.

The Wall Street Journal also published an editorial Friday welcoming the decision.

«The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday struck the greatest blow for equal public education since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954,» it declared. The business daily contended that the current system keeps minority kids «trapped in failing public schools.»

The Journal’s point was explained further on in a quote from the opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas on the voucher case.

«While the romanticized ideal of universal public education resonates with the cognoscenti who oppose vouchers, poor urban families just want the best education for their children, who will certainly need it to function in our high-tech and advanced society,» he wrote.

The secretary for education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also welcomed the Supreme Court decision.

«The court’s decision is a significant victory for parents — especially low-income parents — and reinforces the basic right of all parents to choose the school they believe best serves the educational needs of their children,» said Sister Glenn Anne McPhee. The bishops’ conference represents the largest private religious school community in the nation.

«This decision also supports the responsibility to assist parents to exercise this basic right whether they choose to send their children to public, private, or religious school,» Sister McPhee said.

The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program was found in violation of the First Amendment in a ruling last December by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In separate petitions this May, lawyers for the state of Ohio and the 4,000 children participating in the voucher program asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the decision. The Cleveland program allows students to receive annual tuition grants of up to $2,250.

Sister McPhee said: «This decision is no way threatens the viability of the public school system or its ability to provide a quality education to the millions of parents, including many Catholic parents, who choose to send their children to public schools. In fact, I believe this decision will help to provide the impetus for obtaining a quality education for all school age children in our nation.»

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