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BY The Editors
Back-to-school time sure has changed. In the 1950s and ’60s,
back to school for Catholic children meant a walk or city bus ride to a parish
school. Tuition was free or inexpensive — the uniforms were often the biggest
school expense for families.
Then the numbers of nuns in teaching orders plummetted just
as federal and state regulations were putting new costs on schools. Parish
schools had to hire laypeople, buy costly insurance and meet new codes. The
costs made it impossible for Catholic schools to keep charging little or
nothing for an education.
In the 1970s and ’80s, back to school for most Catholic
children no longer meant parish school but public school.
In the past 20 years, families have become increasingly
dissatisfied with what public schools are offering.
Today’s parents often feel forced to choose between public
schools that were ineffective and private schools that were unaffordable. For
Catholics with large families, it is worse. The home schooling movement has grown
as many parents discovered that the only way to provide a sound education is to
do it themselves.
But in inner-city neighborhoods, where poverty and single
parent rates are high, home schooling is often impossible — and public schools
are much worse.
Classrooms are often high-stress exercises in controlling
society’s roughest characters in humanity’s most undisciplined age groups.
Students with the best intentions can easily come under the influence of peers
who value 1,000 things above their education.
Meanwhile, in the school-voucher movement, a bright spot
briefly flickered for poor parents, only to be snuffed out. School-voucher
programs were conceived to give poor families access to some of the piles of
taxpayer money confiscated for education.
Some of the biggest battles over vouchers were fought in
Florida, after Jeb Bush became governor in 1999. His Opportunity Scholarship
Program would give families a tuition credit to help them attend private
But, in a fight that pitted powerful teacher unions against
poverty-level parents who want a chance to help their children get a better
education, the Democratic Party was firmly and immovably on the side of the
teacher unions. That meant black politicians were, too.
Respected political activist U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, D.-Fla,
has always been against vouchers, arguing that federal money should be spent
But Meek is older now, and in a reflective mood. Earlier
this month, she told the St. Petersburg Times, “I spent a great part of my life
trying to strengthen minority children and minority families. To get a
scholarship like this would be very helpful to some of these children.”
Meek’s support is crucial to pro-voucher forces in Florida.
Florida lawmaker Terry Fields is another black Democrat who has opposed
vouchers throughout his carreer.
Until last year.
Meek’s support may be “the catalyst ... to start a
dialogue,” he said. He points to Duval County where “there are 11 ‘F’ schools,
and all 11 of those ‘F’ schools are in the African-American community.”
He said it’s time to
“get out of our comfortable boxes and do what’s best for our kids.”
Meek and Fields are part of a growing trend in Florida.
State Rep. Betty Reed and other black lawmakers backed a
State Sen. Al Lawson expects more black politicians to begin
backing vouchers. The black community is frustrated by extremely low graduation
rates among black students and black ministers are now more likely to promote
“Lawson himself voted against establishment of the
tax-credit voucher in 2001,” said the St. Petersburg Times, “But in 2006 he was
the lone black senator to vote for the voucher amendment and in the spring, he
spoke in front of thousands of minority kids and parents at a pro-voucher rally
Vouchers are still a long way off — even in Florida. In
2006, the state senate failed by a single vote to put a constitutional
amendment on the ballot aimed at protecting vouchers after the Florida Supreme
Court found them unconstitutional.
But it is telling that, after Hurricane Katrina displaced
students on the Gulf Coast, the federal government now operates the largest
voucher program in the United States.
Black lawmakers in Florida are starting to recognize that
inner city schools have become a disaster as destructive as Katrina. We hope
the rest of America will rally around them some day soon.