- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

The Cleveland case on school vouchers currently before the Supreme Court probably represents the last hope, and certainly the best one, for implementing this badly needed reform in America's educational system.

If Cleveland's voucher system is upheld by the court, we can hope that other cities and states, and perhaps even the federal government itself, will move to offer similar plans to parents desperate to afford their children a decent education. If it is struck down, the air will go out of the whole idea, and generations of bright children in America's ghettos will be doomed to continue being cheated of any hope of such an education.

Our system of free public education has been one of America's glories. But in recent decades, the nation's determination to provide equal opportunities to all youngsters, minority and nonminority alike, has flooded inner-city schools with unmanageable numbers of underachieving "students." It is apparent that the current system is simply unable to cope with the problem.

Parents who can afford it have long since opted out of the public school system altogether, sending their progeny to expensive private schools instead. In addition, in the wealthier suburbs and towns, and in a few selective urban schools here and there, the public system is still capable of providing students with a relatively adequate education. (I say "relatively," because almost all public schools now offer, at best, a pale imitation of what many of them provided 60 years ago, and conceal social pathologies that would shock complacent parents.) But in the ghettos the concept of an education is almost totally absent; students, good and bad alike, are exposed to a dumbed-down curriculum, given "social promotion" when they fail to absorb even that, and finally "graduated" to a life of street gangs, drug abuse and single-parent families.

No one is more painfully aware of this than many of the parents of children in the ghetto schools. Even here, one must acknowledge distinctions: some ghetto parents too stoned on drugs themselves, or otherwise beaten down, to know or care what is happening to their children in school. But every time a voucher plan, offering money to parents so they can afford to put their children in a better school, reaches the ballot, inner-city voters support it overwhelmingly.

And time and again, it is shot down by an unholy alliance of liberal and conservative whites.

In the vanguard are the teachers' unions, whose sole solution for the problems of the inner-city schools is "more money" for more and better-paid teachers, of course. Right behind them are the parents of students in the overwhelmingly white schools of the suburbs and many prosperous towns, who have no desire to see minority youngsters, however bright and promising, darken the complexion of their own youngsters' class photos. Last but far from least, there are the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who dread that ghetto parents might send their children to religious schools, where they might hear about God, the Ten Commandments, and similar no-nos.

To the everlasting discredit of America's black politicians, the vast majority of them support this coalition from hell, preferring the money they get from the teachers' unions to the hope of a better life for the youngsters whose interests they supposedly represent. In this, they are joined by their liberal white colleagues (whose own children are almost invariably sent to private schools).

This situation may well be the worst scandal in the world of American public affairs. There are, of course, some essentially ineducable youngsters in the ghettos, on whom vouchers would simply be wasted. But there are plenty of bright ones, too, who today are being kept locked in educational dungeons by the greed of teachers and politicians, and the misguided selfishness of many white parents.

William Rusher is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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