“Voucher” remedy sought for low-income parents in major lawsuits filed against Chicago and Los Angeles public schools

John Kramer
John Kramer · June 9, 1992

Washington, D.C.–Two lawsuits with potential to dramatically alter the course of U.S. public school education will be filed this week, as part of a national litigation strategy to place failing inner-city public school systems on trial and to expand school choice for low-income youngsters.

The lawsuits will be filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice on Wednesday, June 10, in Chicago, and Thursday, June 11, in Los Angeles, on behalf of more than 150 low-income parents and children. The suits argue that the abysmal quality of public schools in these two cities violates the children’s right to educational opportunities guaranteed under the state constitutions. The lawsuits seek to transfer control over the children’s share of state educational funding to their parents, to empower them to remove their children from inadequate public schools and send them instead to private schools —in essence, a “voucher” remedy.

“Thirty-eight years have passed since Brown v. Board of Education established the constitutional imperative of equal educational opportunities,” declared Clint Bolick, the Institute’s vice president and litigation director, and lead attorney on the Chicago choice case. “But for millions of low-income kids, the promise of a good education is an illusion.” Bolick successfully defended in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the nation’s first voucher program, on behalf of low-income parents.

The constitutions in both states guarantee quality education in tax-supported schools, but low-income children in inner-city schools are not provided with the minimal skills essential for their survival. In both Chicago and Los Angeles, as in most large cities, low-income youngsters are consigned to crime-ridden, inadequate schools over which their parents have little control or choice.

Thirty-eight of Chicago’s 64 public high schools rank in the bottom one percent in the nation on college admission tests. But few students get that far: less than 44 percent of those entering Chicago public high schools graduate. Children in schools with high concentrations of low-income students report abysmal test scores in reading, math, and language arts at every level. Forty-six percent of Chicago public school teachers send their own children to private schools.

In economically distressed south central Los Angeles County, site of recent devastating riots, public school students also receive inferior schooling in crime-ridden surroundings. In 1989 in the Los Angeles Unified School District, there were nearly 11,000 attacks and assaults, including more than 600 assaults with weapons.

Both school districts have huge, highly politicized administrative bureaucracies. The school districts spend more than $5,000 per student each year, but barely half the funds are expended on classroom instruction. Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 160 employees making over $90,000 per year.

Inside these highly regulated and impersonal school systems, low-income parents have little influence or control over their children’s education. Yet private community schools flourish in the same economically distressed neighborhoods, offering low-income families quality education and extensive parental influence in safe schools at a portion of the cost of public schools.

If the lawsuits are successful, low-income parents will have the resources to take their children out of defective public schools and send them to private or other public schools. “We will see continued anger and despair in the inner city until low-income people are given the power to control their own destinies,” declared Chip Mellor, the Institute’s president and general counsel.



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