Thanks to an active school-choice movement, funded and staffed by dedicated and principled private citizens, an increasing number of American parents have the quintessentially American opportunity of choosing where to send their child to school. However, if the teacher unions, ACLU, People for the American Way and similar organizations have their way, a successful voucher program in Florida will cease operation.
Should Florida's Opportunity Scholarship Program be found unconstitutional, it will be yet another defeat of the poor and disenfranchised at the hands of a pretentious and self important elite. Opportunity scholarships are an important ticket out of failing public schools for the poor. Yet, these elites, a good portion of whom can themselves afford options to public schools if they so chose, for their own ideological reasons, want to preclude choice for poor families.
The constitutionality of Florida's Opportunity Scholarship Program is being challenged because it affords the opportunity to use a voucher, financed by public funds, to pay to attend a private school, including religious schools. This option may be exercised when a public school is found to be failing. Parents can pull their child out of the school, pick a different public school, or use a voucher to finance attendance at a private school.
Performance data show dramatic improvement in test scores and graduation rates in Florida since the implementation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. A study conducted in 2003 showed direct correlation between school improvement and the option to take a voucher and go to another school. Harvard researchers report that the Florida program is more successful than the federal No Child Left Behind program.
Those who oppose school choice clearly have other goals than creating the best schools and turning out educated, skilled children. This is particularly sad given the obvious and massive problems we have in our inner city public schools nationwide. It is painfully obvious that anyone motivated by achieving excellence would remain open to every path that may lead to achieving it.
So why, when we regularly confront disappointment and failure in our public schools, does there remain a broad contingent opposed to school choice?
I think there are two overriding themes. One is special interests. Teacher's unions like the status quo. Opening up to competition threatens their monopoly.
Second is an elitism that produces an overarching hostility to religion and religious schools. This hostility is so profound that given the option of a better educated child who is the product of a parochial school, these folks prefer mediocrity or even failure.