Court Decision on Vouchers Draws Praise, CriticismThe U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow decision favoring school vouchers is triggering an intense debate about the future of public education.
In a 5-4 ruling, the high court found a Cleveland school voucher program constitutional. Proponents called the ruling potentially as important as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, while critics said the decision would undermine public education.
“The court’s decision is a victory not only for low-income parents and students, but for American education as well,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “It lays the groundwork for future progress on private school choice and moves us decisively forward in the drive for equal educational opportunity.”
The court’s decision in Simmons-Harris v. Zelman upheld a program that allows low-income families in Cleveland to use their share of Title I federal education dollars at private schools or suburban public schools. Families of 4,000 children received scholarships of $2,250 to use at these schools.
The public schools decided not to participate in the project, but many students used the scholarships to enroll in local private schools, which agreed to set an income cap of $2,500 for these students.
While narrow in scope, the decision provides more support for the use of federal Title I dollars for private services. Earlier this year, in President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” act, Congress endorsed the use of Title I dollars for tutoring, after-school learning and other services, even if programs are administered by faith-based organizations.
Critics of the decision, including a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, blasted the decision. “Vouchers have been a distraction from the real issue of improving public education,” says Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa. “The overwhelming majority of American children go to public schools, and the nation needs to focus on improvements at these institutions rather than creating ways for a small number of students to attend private schools.
“The fact of the matter is that too often, the schools with children from the poorest areas have the most severe lack of resources,” he says. “Instead of putting the spotlight on vouchers, we must re-examine the problems facing too many of America’s young people.”
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