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Conservatives celebrate victory on vouchers
Stealing money from our schools

By Nicole Colson | July 5, 2002 | Page 2

THE U.S. Supreme Court handed conservatives a big present last week when it ruled that a Cleveland school voucher program was constitutional. The 5-4 decision shifted the court's position on vouchers, which give students publicly funded stipends to attend private schools.

George W. Bush was quick to declare the ruling "a great victory" for "parents and students throughout the nation by upholding the decisions made by local folks."

"We're interested in aiming toward excellence for every child," he smirked. If he was graded for honesty, Dubya would get an "F."

Vouchers are a recipe for making our schools worse--because they drain even more money from the already underfunded public education system. The cash to fund vouchers comes directly from the public school budget. That means fewer services and supplies--and a worse education--for the majority of students left behind. The money ends up in private schools--and in the case of Cleveland, 98 percent of vouchers were used at religious-based institutions.

Vouchers are also explicitly anti-union, because they shift funding away from public schools where teachers are much more likely to be organized.

What's more, vouchers tend to only help students from better-off families. That's because they almost never cover the entire cost of tuition at private schools--so most poor students can't afford to "opt out."

And since private schools aren't required to provide the same level of services for students who have special needs, they get left at the bottom of the heap. As NAACP President Kweisi Mfume summarized, "Since families will have to make up additional costs, those in the upper- and middle-income brackets will be helped the most--as long as their kids don't have personal, behavioral or educational challenges that cause the private school to pass them by."

Vouchers supporters made a big show of making sure that African Americans were their spokespeople--to deflect criticism that the schemes damage urban schools disproportionately filled with minority students.

It's understandable why parents desperate to avoid the disaster of inner-city public schools might believe that vouchers offer an alternative. But they come at the expense of making the education crisis worse for larger numbers of students.

And they obscure the real way to fix our schools--increased funding. Conservative political strategist Grover Norquist put it bluntly: "We win just by debating school choice, because the alternative is to discuss the need to spend more money."

Vouchers help the politicians cover up their responsibility for the education crisis. We have to build a fight that forces the politicians to spend real money on our schools--to turn the slogan "education is a right for all" into a reality.

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