Voucher Victory

A few years ago a young Cleveland, Ohio, father took his five-year-old son to see the school he would attend in the fall. What Delvoland Shakespeare found there horrified him-and motivated this Christian dad to join the fight for school choice. Standing at the intersection by the local public school, Shakespeare saw drug dealers on one corner, winos on the second corner, prostitutes on the third, and men shooting dice on the fourth. Inside the school, in the boys' restroom, a man tried to sell Shakespeare drugs. In the classrooms, chaos reigned. "No way was I going to send [my son into] that war zone," Shakespeare recalls. Instead, the Shakespeare family moved into an attic so they could afford to send their son to a Catholic school. And then, two years ago, Ohio announced it was beginning a voucher program. It allows nearly 3,000 low-income families to attend private schools at state cost. The Ohio program is unusual in that it allows parents to send their kids to religious schools. Two out of the three voucher families do choose parochial schools. Well, the Shakespeares couldn't wait to sign up. Both of their kids won vouchers through a lottery system, and the vouchers meant the family could afford to move out of the attic and buy their first home. As Shakespeare put it, the vouchers were an answer to prayer. That's when the ACLU got involved. The ACLU, you see, doesn't approve of answers to prayer. Neither do teachers unions. The ACLU and two teachers' groups filed suit against the voucher program, and the case has gone all the way to the Ohio State Supreme Court. While families like the Shakespeares wait for a decision, they're taking heart in a recent ruling by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. The court has just ruled constitutional a Wisconsin voucher program that allows parents to send their kids to religious schools. Poor, minority parents in Wisconsin now have the power to do something previously reserved only for the rich: They have the financial means to yank their kids out of bad public schools and enroll them in good private ones. It's the beginning of true educational equity in America - equity that's long overdue. We're already seeing the spectacular results. Among voucher students in Cleveland, test scores in math and reading are up dramatically. And thanks to the competition vouchers offer, public schools are being forced to reform. That means the quality of education is going up for all kids in Cleveland. Until all poor parents can break the public school monopoly - until they can give their kids the same education given to well-heeled kids, we'll continue to churn out students who are intellectually stunted, and teachers, as in Massachusetts, who can't pass eighth-grade reading tests. As Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman put it, "We've ended government control of the economy in Russia and East Europe; why should socialism work [any] better for education?" And Friedman adds: "Give parents the control: They are the ones who have the greatest interest in the schooling their children receive." Well, I say "Amen" to that. And you and I need to help families like the Shakespeares by supporting voucher programs and federal education savings accounts-every chance we get. Families ought not to have to move into attics to give their children a decent, godly education.


Chuck Colson


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