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Victory for Vouchers

6/30/2002 - 5:05 PM PST

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THE COMMON GOOD

VOUCHERS: A Victory for Parents, the Poor and for Political Participation


By: Keith A Fournier © Third Millennium, LLC

CATHOLIC CATECHISM, PARAGRAPH 2229:

“As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. [38] Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise”

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Like millions of Americans I have followed with great interest the ongoing movement toward what is referred to as “school choice” and “vouchers” in our educational system. As a public interest lawyer, I also worked on this issue for years.

As a long time public policy activist, I have been deeply concerned over the issue of education and have had a role in helping to frame the current debate. One of the joys of my eclectic legal career was the privilege of serving as an advisor to the Presidential campaign of Steve Forbes.

Mr. Forbes was (and still is) an ardent supporter of parental choice in education. I helped to frame the language for this and other positions for the candidate during his campaign.

I would always encourage him to speak of such “vouchers” as “parental vouchers” and to speak to the broader issue as “parental choice.” The reason was more than semantics.

The words strike at the heart of the real issues raised by this effort. Among them, whose children are they? Their parents or in the words of another Supreme Court case “mere creatures of the State” Who should be making this choice? Whose money is the money in the public treasury? What does “public” actually mean? There are many others.

One of the problems with the use of the phrase “school choice” is that it is not “schools” making the choice but parents. Through the return of tax money directly to parents, in the form of vouchers, they are empowered to extend their teaching duty outside of the first school, the family, and to choose from an array of options; from among a full array of options including public, private, charter or religious or parochial schools.

Through a well designed “voucher” or “credit” system, poor parents can make that choice, no matter what their financial means. They are the ones who understand their children’s needs the best.

As a father, I know how vitally important this issue truly is. I have raised (or am still in the process of raising) five children. Each of them has been the recipient of a fine education at both private (parochial) schools and public ones. They have also been the victim of poor education. Fortunately, I have had a choice.

I am also the product of both types of schools. I have experienced poor teaching and excellent teaching, poor leadership and effective leadership at both.

There is nothing as frustrating to any parent than to have to keep their children in a poor school. The very experience which should extend their parenting outside of the first schoolhouse of the home becomes instead often an adversary to their own parental mission. Leaving their children trapped in a failed system and a culture that undermines their parental role and deepest longings for their children is unjust and does not promote the common good.

THE COURT CASE

A recent United States Supreme Court decision, being hailed by many as a landmark “Church-State” decision, entitled ZELMAN, SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION OF OHIO, et al. v. SIMMONS-HARRIS et al., has changed the entire landscape of American education for the better.

In that opinion the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, by a five to four majority that an Ohio “voucher” program was constitutional. That legislation allowed inner city parents in Cleveland to choose to use “vouchers” in order to send their children to the school of their choice, including other public, private or parochial schools. The Court found that it was constitutionally sound and did not constitute a “de-facto” subsidy for church-run schools in violation of the so-called “establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I join the throngs of those who welcome this clearly reasoned opinion as a victory for parents and children, the poor and for robust political participation. Contrary to the entrenched interests of some of the bureaucrats who predict the end of the public educational system as a result of this decision, I believe that it will in fact result in better public schools and spawn much needed reform. Additionally it removes one more impediment to the ...

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