Voucher ruling reaction mixed

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 28, 2002

BNI Newswire

State reaction was mixed Thursday to a U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow a Cleveland school district to continue a voucher program.

Gov. Don Siegelman, who has pushed education funding as one of the hallmarks of his election campaign, said public schools in Alabama "need more money, not less."

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"Our first priority is to continue to improve the public schools and to strengthen and protect the Education Trust Fund," he said. "The last thing Alabama needs is to take resources out of public schools."

Alabama has had little legislative interest in school vouchers, compared to other states. The high court’s 5-4 decision Thursday was in reference to a pilot program in an inner-city Cleveland school district. The program provides parents with a tax-supported education stipend they can use to opt out of one of the worst-rated public school systems in the nation.

Vouchers have been largely supported by conservatives who say they give parents options and denounced by teachers’ unions who say they undermine support for public schools.

But the decision also, some legal experts say, further breaks down the barrier that separates church and state. Many of the Cleveland parents who take advantage of the program send their children to parochial or Christian schools.

In Alabama, state Christian Coalition President John Giles praised the decision.

"We believe the overarching goal for our children should be a quality education," he said. "Vouchers will engage public and private academic administrators and teachers to compete for students who are eager to receive a wonderful education. This is very healthy. Tax credits or vouchers should be allowed based on the parental preference."

President Bush, who has pushed for school vouchers in Congress, praised the ruling as well.

"This landmark ruling is a victory for parents and children throughout America," Bush said. "By upholding the constitutionality of Cleveland’s school choice program, the Supreme Court has offered the hope of an excellent education to parents and children throughout our country. This decision clears the way for other innovative school choice programs so that no child in America will be left behind."