Debate Sharpens Over School Choice

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 2, 1997

Washington, D.C. ­Yesterday’s Ohio court decision striking down the Cleveland school choice program is only the latest skirmish over the most promising education reform in America. Far from being over-as the education lobby would have people believe-the momentum is building for school choice. Here are the facts:

Headed to the U.S. Supreme Court: Choice supporters and opponents seemingly disagree over every issue, except one: the legal battle ultimately won’t be resolved until a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Cases should start reaching that Court this year or next.

Favorable Supreme Court precedents: In an unbroken line of precedents since 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court consistently has upheld assistance used in religious schools, so long as the decision where the money is spent is made by parents or students. The last thing opponents want is for a school choice case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Program’s Beneficiaries: School choice provides a life preserver for poor kids in failing schools. In the Milwaukee Public Schools, 85 percent of kids from welfare families never graduate. In the Cleveland Public Schools, children have a one in 14 chance of graduating on time at senior-level proficiency. 97 percent of the children in Milwaukee’s choice program are minorities, and all are low-income. The average family income in the Cleveland program is below $7,000.

School Choice Works: Over four years in the Milwaukee program, according to a study by Paul Peterson at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, test scores improved markedly for choice students and the gap between minority and nonminority test scores closed by between one-half and one-third. Both the current and former Milwaukee school superintendents testified that choice provided a catalyst for long-overdue public school reform.

Momentum Grows: School choice is the only reform that allows low-income kids to move immediately from failing schools to good schools, and provides a competitive incentive for public schools to improve. States and school districts around the nation are adopting choice programs, and the reform is backed by such moderates as Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson (R), Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist (D), Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello (D), California Gov. Pete Wilson (R), and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D).



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