School Choice is Civil Rights Issue of New Century

By Charles A. Byrne
7/8/1999

When the U.S. Supreme Court voted 8-1 this spring against intervening to stop Milwaukee's innovative school choice program, it was widely interpreted as the latest sign that the battle for parental right to choose is fast gaining all an most irresistible momentum. But, could this latest tactical victory for school choice signal something even bigger—the opening phases of the latest American taxpayer revolt?

Like California's Proposition 13, which 20 years ago brought sky-high state tax rates earthbound through the ballot initiative, many courts and legislatures are now ignoring the contempt of sneering elites in order to empower parents to shop for responsive schools with their feet. Armed with vouchers, these parents are now freed from the plantation of schools run by the public-education mafia, which for years has expended more effort on protecting its own perks than seeing to the needs of the children to which they ostensibly cater.

This Luddite mentality, which equates any change in the current funding system with blasphemous assaults on children themselves, has traditionally given these 'sentinels of the status quo the ability to block all forms of change. As National Education Association president Bob Chase has said, “education is the modern world's temporal religion,” and through its traditional domination of the political and media debates on education, these arrogant elites succeeded in painting anyone who disagreed with them as somehow unholy.

But that power to poison the wells of public opinion is palpably waning. As Americans began awakening to the fact that their schools in many cases were not all that they could be, they grew increasingly open, especially in the African-American community - to methods for sparking competition. That has opened the door just enough to permit school-choice programs such as those in Ohio and Wisconsin to take root even in the most hostile environments. These states have been in the forefront of reform, either because their school situations were worse or their governors more willing to take the withering criticism, or both. In any event, their trailblazing has not gone unnoticed: counterparts in other states are now emboldened and energized by the Ohio and Wisconsin experiments.

Parental educational choice is an historical movement destined to succeed, powered by the same moral imperatives which made the civil rights movement's success inevitable. School choice is an authentic '90s grassroots movement which neither the courts nor the Constitution can deny, because school choice is an affirmative action and civil rights issue for the new millennium.