Liberals spent all of last week portraying the legalization of homosexual wedlock as "the civil rights issue of our time." As that theme suffused debate at the U.S. Supreme Court, a state high court stepped up and decided the real civil rights issue of our time.
In a 5 to 0 ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the ambitious school-voucher program put in place two years ago by Mitch Daniels, then the Republican governor. The ruling means the children of poor families won't be condemned to attend the state's worst schools by a union bureaucracy that cares more about protecting the jobs of incompetent teachers than about ensuring every pupil has a shot at a promising future.
The Indiana court rejected stale arguments against the state program, which offers families up to $4,500 to attend schools outside the public education system. The court found this arrangement does not unfairly send taxpayer money to religious institutions. Instead, the justices concluded the governmental assistance to parochial schools was incidental.
"The parents of an eligible student are thus free to select any program-eligible school or none at all," Chief Justice Brent E. Dickson wrote in the ruling.
The ruling ends the legal challenge at the state level, but teachers unions and their water carriers could still take the issue to federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar program in 2002 in Ohio, so the attempt to make a federal case out of it would be a long shot.
What sets Indiana's program apart from other, more modest efforts across the nation is its scope. It's not limited to poor families or those with children in failing public schools. Middle-class families are eligible to apply for vouchers, and the vouchers are offered statewide, even to families living in areas with adequate public schools. "I have long believed that parents should be able to choose where their children go to school, regardless of their income," says Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican.
If Education Secretary Arne Duncan meant it when he asserted during a September 2011 "Back to School" bus tour of the Midwest that education is "the civil rights issue of our time," he ought to embrace the Indiana model. The administration, unfortunately, is dead set against any reform that might upset powerful public-sector unions.
President Obama has sought unsuccessfully in the past to defund Washington's voucher program, known as D.C. Opportunity Scholarships. In this, Mr. Obama follows in the footsteps of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, who wielded his veto pen to thwart the first attempts to create the program. Once Congress was able to make it happen, the program proved wildly popular with low-income parents. The modest scholarships still aren't enough to enable D.C.'s inner-city schoolkids to hobnob with the sons and daughters of presidents and senators at schools like gilt-edged Sidwell Friends. That doesn't mean they should have to settle for what they'll get from the failed public schools.
The Washington Times
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