Advancing School Choice

Published February 1, 2000

School Choice, and the Constitution, and Civil Society
Joseph P. Viteritti, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C. (1999)

Choosing Equality begins with a tribute to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which author Joseph P. Viteritti calls “the most important Supreme Court decision of the twentieth century.”

The decision mandated equal education for black and white children in the public schools. Viteritti shows how the programs it generated–forced busing for desegregation, and huge expenditures for improving schools for minority children–have not achieved the hoped-for goals. In fact, those who have suffered most from this public school experimentation are the very minority students Brown was supposed to help, because the government school monopoly has not allowed parents to choose from among private schools.

Viteritti, a research professor at Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, has done extensive research into the history of American education. He finds that the nation not only has fallen short of providing decent schooling for its most disadvantaged children, but has actually delayed the movement towards social and political equality.

Viteritti offers an especially good exposé of the anti-Catholic bigotry that spawned the infamous Blaine Amendment. The Common School, as the government schools were called then, was founded in reaction against the many Catholic immigrants who came to America to find freedom. Instead, they found a school system born in bigotry and preserved in prejudice to this very day. Advocates of school choice will find powerful arguments for reform in these pages.

The book is rich in its recounting of the turbulent times for American public schools and presents a sorry picture of the way a government school monopoly can rob school children of their opportunity to be well-educated. However, Viteritti appears to have missed the vital role played by Citizens for Educational Freedom in the school choice movement. There is no mention of CEF; or of its brilliant mentor, Rev. Virgil Blum S.J., who published extensively in the 1950s on freedom of choice in education; or of Dr. Daniel D. McGarry, founder of the Educational Freedom Foundation and publisher of the scholarly journal Educational Freedom.

It was CEF that challenged the National Education Association on the first federal aid bill. It was CEF that demanded equality for all school children–including students at parochial schools–be included in the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the first bill providing massive federal aid to education. Since then, CEF and other school choice advocates have supported successful court cases in defense of parental school choice. Currently, Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice, leads the court action.

It was the hard work of EFF founder McGarry, a professor of history at St. Louis University, that turned the tide in another key school choice case, Mueller v. Allen. In this 1983 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Minnesota provision granting a tax deduction to parents for tuition, textbooks, and transportation. Viteritti calls this ruling “a major breakthrough” that revitalized the child benefit concept for aid to non-government school children.

When the deduction was challenged, McGarry persuaded several important organizations to enter amicus briefs in defense of parents’ rights. Without his intervention, the Minnesota defense would have stood alone against a formidable array of public school partisans.

Choosing Equality is an excellent resource to advance the argument for school choice, despite its neglect of the prominent role played by CEF in this debate. Viteritti makes a powerful case for equality in education and for religious freedom in education. CEF intends to see this ideal become a reality in the 21st Century.

Be sure to buy this book and ask your local library to put a copy on its shelves.

Mae Duggan is president of Citizens for Educational Freedom.