- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

Figuring out which home room teacher a student will get this fall should be as easy as inquiring of the staff at the public school nearest a family's neighborhood. But in some places the nearest public school may literally be falling apart, its teachers badly educated and its students barely able to pass standardized reading and math exams. If the parents have the money to send their children elsewhere, as did the Clintons and Gores, they do. If they don't, their children are stuck.

Frequently, these children are minorities from low-income families. But the Gore campaign apparently is willing to sacrifice them to failing schools rather than allow them to use vouchers to go elsewhere.

Howard Fuller, former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools, is sick of it. "Parental school choice and satisfaction in America is widespread unless you're poor," he said. "This disparity is un-American. Starting today, we take direct aim on this inequity. We will not rest until we eliminate it," Mr. Fuller said at a National Press Club briefing last week. The briefing was held in honor of the launching of the Black Alliance for Education Options, a campaign against unequal opportunities for low-income parents.

"A canyon divides America," he said. "On one side, with few educational options, are low-income parents, mostly of color. On the other side, with many choices, are middle- and upper-income, mostly white parents." Voucher programs like the one students in Mr. Fuller's schools could use provide parents with the option of choosing another public or private school for their child with state funds to make up the balance. Critics of voucher programs especially those which give the option of being used in private schools say this drains talent from public schools, leaving only the least gifted in the failing schools. But reality shows that public schools can be more selective than private.

In Chicago, where 42 of the 50 public schools are the worst in the state, students have to take a special entrance exam to get into Whitney Young Magnet, considered the best among them. The only problem is the entrance exam is invitation-only, according to an article by James Ylisela in the Springfield, Ill.-based monthly, "Illinois Issues." Assessments based on seventh-grade test results determine whether students make the special list.

In Milwaukee, 37 percent of public schools use selective admissions requirements. Wisconsin state law allows Milwaukee public schools to refuse to accept students based on poor attendance and previous expulsion, according to George Clowes of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute. They can also reject students based on discipline records, academic achievement, interviews or written applications the very things Milwaukee voucher schools are not allowed to use as selection criteria.

School-choice critics, in particular Mr. Gore's spin machine, need to face the facts about public and private school practices. By sidelining minority education options, vouchers among them, they are only hurting the minorities in whose name they purport to campaign.

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