George Will
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Fifty-seven years later, the Sumner Elementary School in Topeka is back in the news. That city's board of education is still wrongly preventing the right people from getting into that building. Two educators wanted to use Sumner for a charter school, a public school entitled to operate outside the confinements of dictated curricula and free from many work rules written by teachers unions. Their school would have been a back-to-basics academy for grades K through five, designed to attack Topeka's 23-point gap between the reading proficiency of black and Hispanic third-graders and that of whites.

When the school board rejected the application of the two educators -- African-American women -- but praised their dedication to children, one of the women was not mollified: ``A bleeding heart does nothing but ruin the carpet.''

Sumner is a National Historic Landmark because in 1950 Oliver Brown walked with his 7-year-old daughter Linda the seven blocks from their home to Sumner, where he unsuccessfully tried to enroll her. But Topeka's schools were segregated, so Linda went to the school for blacks 21 blocks from her home, and her father went to court. Four years later came Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka.

Sumner, which has been closed for years, would have required costly repairs. Still, clearly one reason for the rejection was the usual resistance of public educators to innovations that challenge the status quo, meaning centralized control of schools.

In Arizona, some amazingly persistent and mostly liberal people are demonstrating the tenacity with which some interests fight to prevent parents of modest means from having education choices like those available to most Americans. In 1999, Arizona's Supreme Court upheld a program whereby individuals receive tax credits for donations they make to organizations that provide scholarships to enable children to attend private schools, religious and secular. More than 22,500 children have benefited from the program in a decade. Thousands of families are on waiting lists for scholarships because 600 Arizona schools have failed to meet federal academic requirements.

In 2000, Arizona opponents of school choice, in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, attacked the program in a federal court. They failed again, in a ruling issued in 2005, which was not surprising, given that in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no constitutional infirmity in government-sponsored and administered programs that involve ``true private choice'' by giving government aid directly to parents, who use it at their discretion for sectarian or nonsectarian schools.

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George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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