- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

For Howard Fuller, school choice is about empowerment. The former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent gave his city's low-income families more educational choices in the 1990s by providing them tax-supported vouchers which parents could use to send their children to private schools. Now he's hoping to see the same happen in Cleveland this summer, he told the editorial page of The Washington Times last week. When the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears the arguments challenging Cleveland's scholarship program today in Cincinnati, it will have to decide whether it agrees with Mr. Fuller or wants to tell the 3,800 children involved that their academic future is not worth considering.

"This is a debate about power," Mr. Fuller wrote in a paper published by his Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. "This is about who should have the primary power to determine where low-income, mostly African-American children attend school. This is about whether parents of low-income African-American children should obtain a power that many critics of the choice movement exercise every day on behalf of their own children. This is about a fundamental issue confronting African-Americans and therefore all Americans: parents without the power to make educational choices lack an indispensable tool for helping their children secure an effective education."

The American Federation of Teachers would take the power away from students. The federation is challenging the 4-year-old program because most of the children are using the state scholarships to go to religious schools. It is hoping the 6th Circuit will sustain a U.S. District court decision made in December that said the program violates the separation of church and state.

For those Ohio residents concerned that their tax dollars are going to support religious schools which the parents of the disadvantaged children choose, they might consider where their tax dollars are going now: schools that low-income parents are afraid to send their children to because of violence, low academic achievement and distance. While more affluent parents have the advantage of choosing other options, Cleveland's low-income parents don't. For those involved in the Pilot Project Scholarship Program, priority is given to those who are from families below 200 percent of a set poverty level. The student's average total family income is $18,750 and 73.4 percent are minorities. Of those, 60 percent are African-American. Seventy percent of the students come from single-mother households.

According to a study released in November by the Columbus, Ohio-based Buckeye Institute, school choice in Cleveland provides better racial integration than the public school system. Parents were also more satisfied with the discipline and safety in the schools, according to a study released in June 1999 by Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Apparently that's less important for the teachers' union than providing the children with a less safe, but politically correct, education. One hopes the 6th Circuit ruling will allow poor families the same authority to make the educational choices their more well-to-do counterparts take for granted.

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