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. . . And Free Choice

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. — Minneapolis, Minn -- Public education is increasingly regarded as so beyond repair that the governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin are proposing to empower parents so they, not the state, might decide where their children should be educated.

Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson is asking his legislature to pass a school-choice measure by next year. Wisconsin's legislature, thanks to the persistence of Gov. Tommy Thompson, has already passed such a measure. The Wisconsin Supreme Court will soon decide the constitutionality of using state funds for private schools, including religious ones.

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While both governors acknowledge that schools are not the only solution to improving the lot of young people, especially in urban areas, they believe what goes on in the classroom can make a significant contribution. Mr. Thompson cites the pathetic record of Milwaukee schools as an example. Nearly half of Milwaukee students don't graduate from high school, and those who do have a D-minus average. Mr. Thompson believes that poor parents should have the same opportunities to educate their children as those financially better off.

Both governors believe there is constitutional precedent for allowing tax money to go to private schools. It already goes to private, religious preschools and day care centers through day care grants and to private, religious colleges and universities via Pell grants, the GI Bill and student loans. It is only at the Kindergarten-12 level that such funds have been prohibited.

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But the debate isn't about education. In Milwaukee, the Center for Education Reform showed that 33 percent of the city's public school teachers send their own children to private schools. It is about controlling the minds and hearts of the next generation and forcing children to accept a worldview held by those who draft the curriculum and write the textbooks. That this is frequently a worldview not shared by the children's parents is dismissed, and complaining parents are branded "censors" or "bigots" or "anti-intellectual."

Over the July 4 weekend, the National Education Association held its annual convention in Minneapolis. According to the publication Education Reporter, dozens of resolutions were approved that had nothing to do with the intellectual development of children. At least five resolutions indicate the NEA's antagonism toward parents who make private or home-school choices. At least 15 resolutions were passed that deal with the sexual orientation issue. (These were crafted by the NEA's Gay and Lesbian Caucus.) The NEA adopted the feminist agenda, the environmental-rights agenda and even passed resolutions calling for District of Columbia statehood, taxpayer benefits to illegal aliens, a national holiday honoring Cesar Chavez, ratification of the U.N. Treaty on the rights of the child and a change in the purpose of Thanksgiving to replace giving thanks to God with a celebration of "diversity."

In a recent speech, Governor Thompson said: "Public schools must no longer be government-run schools. They will be schools that serve the public. School choice is more than a program. It is a philosophy. It is the belief that parents know best when it comes to their children."

Meanwhile, the verdict is already in on the state of government-run education. If Minnesota and Wisconsin can win court approval, the government schools as we've known them for a century will be transformed. They will reflect the will of the people, and the needs of the nation and its children, and not that of a tiny elite who think they, and only they, know what is best.

5) Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.


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