When the Wisconsin Supreme Court handed down its decision in favor of a controversial Milwaukee “school choice” proposal last month, an unlikely cross-section of conservatives, liberals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and inner-city parents across the nation let out a cheer. For the first time, the idea of allowing poor families to use state funds to send their children to private schools had survived a constitutional challenge in the courts.
“It was a shot in the arm, … the boost [school choice] needed,” says Polly Williams, the Democratic Wisconsin state legislator who has become a nationally recognized spokesperson on the issue. Williams and other school-choice advocates believe the decision will now spark a national, grassroots revolution in education.
The idea of providing government support for options other than the public schools has been around for a long time, largely promoted by supporters of Catholic parochial schools. Today many proposals are being advanced, including allowing parents a choice between public schools, granting tax credits to families who use private schools, and distributing government vouchers that may be used at any school.
Support for the idea has broadened; school choice has become a pet issue for conservative Protestant groups, pro-family groups that promote traditional values, and low-income minority families who want the same flexibility as the wealthy.
In Wisconsin, the new coalition was able to pass the experimental “Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” which allows inner-city children to use their state public-school funds in private, nonsectarian schools. The program was immediately challenged, but last month the state supreme court ruled that it “passes constitutional scrutiny.” Wrote Judge ...1
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