Cal  Thomas

HOUSTON -- On the day of the NCAA men's basketball final, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that is likely to produce champions for generations to come.

By a 5-4 vote, the majority upheld an Arizona tax-credit program that, writes David Savage of the L.A. Times, gives taxpayers a "dollar-for-dollar tax credit, up to $500 per person or $1,000 for a couple, for those who donate to organizations that in turn pay tuition for students attending private and parochial schools." The minority contends this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, maintains that since such donations are with pre-tax dollars, the government never has the money, and thus, "there is no such connection between dissenting taxpayer and alleged establishment."

The case is likely to provide a large new revenue stream for private religious schools, especially Catholic institutions like St. Anthony's Catholic High School in Jersey City, N.J., which was recently profiled on CBS' "60 Minutes." Not only does St. Anthony's produce top-notch basketball players, it also graduates students with academic credentials and character, thanks to a foundation based on strong religious principles.

Proponents of school choice have been waiting for a ruling like this one. The next step should be court approval for school vouchers, which would allow parents complete freedom in choosing their child's school. If money cannot be prevented from going to private schools, students should not be prohibited from attending them simply because they can't afford it. With vouchers, students and their parents -- not government -- would decide which school offers the best education. Competition would improve the public schools or, like businesses that underperform, they would be forced to close.

The concept of a public school system was established in the 19th century by education "reformers" such as Horace Mann of Massachusetts and Henry Barnard of Connecticut. Mann published The Common School Journal and the idea behind a common school system was to educate the poor (at the time, only the wealthy received an education) and unite the country through a common curriculum. By the end of the 1800s, free public education was available to all American children.

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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