- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the First Amendment case Simmons-Harris vs. Zelman, which will determine whether it is constitutional for poor Cleveland students to use up to $2,250 in publicly funded vouchers to go to religious schools. This is good news. Hanging in the balance are not just the 4,000-plus children who would use those vouchers in Cleveland, but more than 30,000 other children using public money to go to the schools of their choice in 21 other states.
The National Education Association (NEA), the main litigator for those opposing vouchers, will face off against parents of the poor students, who will be represented by the Institute for Justice. The question that the highest court will seek to answer goes to the heart of Americans' freedom to choose and their right to freedom of, rather than freedom from, religion.
The problem is simple. Cleveland's public schools are failing. In its most recent evaluation, Cleveland Public Schools only satisfied three out of the state's 27 performance criteria. The majority of schools that have stepped up to fill the void left by failing schools are religious the only schools benevolent enough to accept small vouchers for poor children. Parental satisfaction with the religious schools has been high, and this month, the Indiana Center for Evaluation, the official evaluator of the program for Ohio since 1997, released findings that said students who began the voucher program in kindergarten are performing at "statistically significantly" higher levels than their public school peers. An earlier study by the center had found a small but statistically significant improvement in language and science in 1999.
Part of the urban education problem, Milwaukee mayor and school-choice advocate John Norquist said, has been that anyone with school-age children and money has taken their children to the good schools in the suburbs. This has left poor minorities in the inner-city failing schools and few resources.
In Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregation of black children in public schools violates the 14th Amendment. Misinformed lobbyists, who often send their own children to private schools, are trying to put a new face on school segregation. The Supreme Court should ensure that they fail.


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