A Winning Choice

Cal Thomas

4/7/2011 12:01:00 AM - 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.

Then came the 20th century and the content of education began to change. Social "reformers" decided they could use the public school system as a propaganda tool to instill in the young their secular-liberal worldview. This culminated in the early 1960s with lawsuits filed by the notorious atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair. The Supreme Court outlawed prayer and Bible reading in public schools, the teaching of evolution as fact, sex education, environmentalism and now homosexuality and same-sex "marriage" followed.

What followed these subjects in many schools was a decline in the fundamentals. Students who graduated were too often functional illiterates (at least 1 million high school students annually, according to the Acton Institute). They know a lot about sex, but not enough about math, science, history and writing to get a job. The system was failing them.

Teachers Unions focused more on their members, defending underperforming teachers, rather than on children who were being denied their right to a good education, which, for the poor, was their ticket out of poverty.

The school choice movement sprung up and met with fierce resistance from the public school establishment and the politicians who benefited from their political contributions. Politicians who would never have defended the late Alabama Governor George Wallace, who barred the doors to the University of Alabama in 1963 to keep two African-American students from entering, now have no problem effectively standing in the door of failed public schools to keep minority students from leaving.

The Supreme Court's ruling, in its way, could be as significant as Brown vs. Board of Education, which desegregated American public schools. This latest case, known as Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, is a win for students.

It's about time.