Thirty-nine years ago this week, an assassin's bullet took the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. King fought against the intolerance and ignorance that denied African-Americans equal access to public transportation, education, employment and justice.
Since his death, America has come a long way.
Today, our nation is a testament to both Rev. King's accomplishments and those of whom he inspired. African-Americans hold positions of power and influence at the highest levels of government and industry. Progress has been made on the old civil rights battle fronts. But new fronts have opened.
The battle over school choice is one. In fact, school choice programs - developed to free poor urban and rural children from failing public schools - represent this century's defining civil rights issue.
While the battle is brewing in Texas and Florida, nowhere is it more crucial than in Ohio. Here, newly elected Governor Ted Strickland, in a nod to his political allies in the state teachers' unions, is waging an aggressive attack on school vouchers and charter schools.
Calling school vouchers "undemocratic" and charter schools a "dismal failure," Gov. Strickland, in his first major public policy address, slammed the door of educational opportunity on thousands of poor children and crushed the hopes of their parents.
By denying these children the equal access to a quality education that choice programs offer, he also denied that the bloated public education bureaucracy and its entrenched unions have failed our children. Gov. Strickland positions his opposition to choice as part of an overall effort to eliminate inefficiency and force accountability, but he misleads.
Currently, large numbers of Ohio's public schools, particularly those in the state's urban areas, fail to teach our children. Public school failure can be measured in many ways. For example, over 115,550 students in Ohio's eight largest cities are attending 251 schools not meeting even the state's minimal education standards. Far larger numbers of children are receiving educations that leave them completely unprepared for today's global economy.
In contrast, school choice programs are working and growing. First in the form of charter schools for 76,000 pupils in over 200 schools, then in an autism scholarship expanding choice to key middle class constituencies, and now to the EdChoice program making another 50,000 students eligible for 14,000 vouchers to escape failing public schools.