Few organizations are as consistently liberal as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), especially when it comes to matters of church and state. The ADL devotes an entire page on its Web site (www.adl.org) to church-state separation and wants the "wall" between the two to remain as high and impenetrable as possible, believing that to lower it would have a negative effect on both.
Which makes it remarkable that the executive committee of ADL's Philadelphia chapter has voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution endorsing vouchers that would allow children in underperforming schools in poor neighborhoods to escape to schools that would give them a safer environment in which to learn and, thus, a better education.
John Kramer, vice president for communications at the Institute for Justice (www.ij.org), tells me the ADL's 30 regional offices are considering whether to adopt the Philadelphia resolution. The ADL's national board has scheduled a vote for June 14.
Reading the Philadelphia resolution recalls the arguments made for years by voucher advocates. It says a good education is a civil right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal treatment under the law. In a letter from the executive committee to Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, the committee maintains that, "Allowing for school choice is the best remedy for our failing system of education." That is especially true for the Philadelphia public school system, which the state took over in 2001.
Attempts to improve public schools by having them compete for students with a choice as to which educational institution they will attend -- in Philadelphia and elsewhere -- have been faced with consistent opposition from teachers unions and Democratic politicians who care more about patronage and union contributions than the overall welfare of children.
The Philadelphia ADL letter reads like a legal argument with mounds of facts in support of its position. It says, "The evidence that our public education system is failing to educate our children is staggering ... high rates of illiteracy, an unacceptable number of high school dropouts and the widening achievement gap between white and minority students merely scratch the surface."
The letter backs up what conservatives have been saying for years: "Despite dramatically increasing the amount of money spent on K-12 education over the past several decades -- per pupil expenditures have increased by 53.6 percent (after adjusting for inflation) -- student performance is abysmal."