|Back to August Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 199||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||AUGUST 2002|
Teachers Union Frantic Over Voucher Decision|
NEA to 'tackle' Supreme Court Ruling
WASHINGTON, DC - In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27 ruled in favor of Cleveland, Ohio's voucher program, which awards $2,500 each to approximately 4,000 poor children to transfer from failing public schools to private schools. The teachers unions and their allies, including the national PTA, immediately denounced the decision as trampling on the First Amendment and endangering the separation of church and state.
Both outgoing NEA President Bob Chase and AFT President Sandra Feldman vowed that their unions would continue the fight against vouchers, and Chase promised the NEA would "tackle" the Supreme Court ruling. "We anticipate voucher proponents will now work on seven to eight states," he warned. "If that happens, NEA is prepared to assist state affiliates in any way we can."
During his keynote address at the NEA's national convention on July 2, Chase called "the voucher crowd's" contention that public education has failed "the big lie." Just seconds earlier, he had described the convention's host city of Dallas as "one of 16 cities nationwide where at least half the high schools have extremely high dropout rates - 50% or worse." He complained that after tax cuts, defense spending and aid to farmers, there is "no new money left for public education and struggling schools," despite the record $26.5 billion authorized for public education by Congress in January under the "No Child Left Behind" Act. (It was $4 billion more than President Bush requested and $8 billion more than the last Clinton education bill.)
Incoming NEA President Reg Weaver parroted the union hard line on vouchers when he addressed the convention on July 5, asking "what steps are we going to take to diminish the negative impact of what, to many, will be perceived as a great gift, and that is vouchers?"
Cleveland parents who have seized vouchers as lifelines for their children may well consider them "a great gift." "The parents of these children are among the happiest people in the world today," opined nationally syndicated radio host and columnist Neal Boortz on June 28. "Their children aren't going to be yanked from their private schools and forced back into the black hole of government education from which no knowledge can escape."
NEA attorney Robert Chanin, who argued against vouchers before the Supreme Court, admitted that "this legal challenge was never our first line of defense. The First Amendment argument was a means to an end. . . . Voucher programs will only worsen whatever people might think is wrong with public education."
Some voucher supporters called the ruling a "landmark" decision. Others speculated that it might be the most important education decision since school prayer was banned by Engel v. Vitale in 1962. "The Supreme Court upheld the Cleveland school option plan as 'a program of true private choice,' even though the majority of voucher-using parents chose religiously affiliated schools," noted constitutional lawyer and Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly.
Mrs. Schlafly observed that "in watching the tantrums indulged in" by the teachers unions and other voucher opponents, "their principal argument is not First Amendment but financial. They are squealing because school choice plans divert a tiny fraction of public funds to private schools 'that are not accountable to the public.' Public schools are currently accountable only to the political bureaucracy that the unions control. Private schools are accountable to the parents who pay the tuition and can withdraw their children if the schooling isn't satisfactory."
As Neal Boortz pointed out, "parents are going to demand of their state legislators the opportunity to use the money that has been taken from them in the form of school taxes for the actual education of their children, not just the lining of teachers union pockets. The unions know that this ruling is going to open a floodgate of voucher legislation."