NO Educational choice made headlines like never before when Polly Williams, a black Wisconsin state legislator from Milwaukee’s inner city, sponsored a bill in the spring of 1990 that would allow one thousand low-income children to attend one of eight private, nonsectarian schools. The state would provide $2,500 in tuition per child, the amount normally granted the Milwaukee public-school system for each child. After the plan was ruled constitutional by a circuit court that August, 391 students switched from public schools to the eight private schools.
Milwaukee is seldom a trend setter. But when its parental-choice plan was passed by the state legislature, the bill made national and international news. The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, and the Economist all published articles on the controversial plan that allowed parents to choose. So extensive was reader interest that the Wall Street Journal published over two-dozen articles and several opinion pieces on parental choice.
Legal challenges, however, did not rest. The Wisconsin Education Association and others appealed the lower court’s decision, and in early November of last year the Fourth District State Appeals Court ruled unanimously that the Milwaukee program was unconstitutional on a technicality. The court did not specifically rule on the merit or legality of choice itself, however. Program supporters have appealed to the state supreme court to overturn the appeals court’s decision.
Whatever the fate of Milwaukee’s plan, President Bush’s recently unveiled education proposal will guarantee that the issue stays alive in public debate. His proposal committed both the federal government’s money and moral support to the idea that ...1
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