- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

For a land of choices, the United States is surprisingly limited when it comes to grade school education. Shoppers can buy dozens of varieties of fat-free frozen dinners, but in many states, poor families cannot even choose the school to which their children go. For a country hailed as a beacon for a strong and diverse university curriculum, America lags far behind its industrialized peers in its elementary and secondary education.
At least part of the reason is that while U.S. college students are free to use government funds to attend private schools, younger students rarely have that opportunity. One exception is Milwaukee, where Democratic Mayor John Norquist has used vouchers to expand the array of educational opportunities for pupils. Parents there welcome the choice. According to a 1999 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion poll, 74 percent of the African-American respondents were happy with the private school voucher program, and 77 percent of the Hispanic were satisfied.
Today Milwaukee is celebrating 10 years of a successful voucher program for poor urban children that has boosted math and reading scores. But in a meeting with The Washington Times last week, Mr. Norquist argued that in other parts of the world, Milwaukee's program would be the rule, rather than the exception. He hailed Netherland's education program as offering the greatest range of education choices. Its government-funded school choice history dates back to 1924 and offers access to schools that range from Buddhist to Dutch Reformed.
In Canada, children can go to Catholic or Jewish schools on the government's dime. In Sweden, parents don't even have to apply to get grants or vouchers to have their children go to private schools for free. France provides scholarships for poor families whose children go to private school to aid with education supplies, and provides grants of up to $500 for poor students while they attend university. In Germany, religious and specialized skills schools are part of the public education system. Grade school students have the opportunity to specialize in languages, crafts and technical studies, to name a few.
But in America teachers unions treat grants or vouchers for K-12 students as though they border on criminal activity, especially if they are religious. For city leaders like Mr. Norquist though, religious schools provide stability for city life.
"As somebody who is not a fundamentalist, I love fundamentalist Christian schools," he said. "I don't see fundamentalist Christian schools as a threat to Milwaukee at all. The kids going through these schools are very unlikely to ever end up in the criminal justice system, so the trade-off is pretty good for me."

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