Long Choice Struggle Ahead, Catholics Warned

Published June 1, 2001

Catholic teachers and administrators meeting in Milwaukee in April were warned by parental choice advocate Howard Fuller that the road to school choice was a long one, with the fight to put programs in place being only the first stage of a multi-phase battle against relentless “protectors of the status quo [who] are not just going to go quietly into the night.”

In his keynote address to National Catholic Educational Association members at the Milwaukee Auditorium, Fuller described the five-part strategy used by opponents to defeat any parental choice initiative:

  • First, try to make sure it never gets into law;
  • Second, if it’s likely to become law, add limitations to weaken its impact;
  • Third, after it becomes law, challenge it in court;
  • Fourth, if it wins in the courts, call for additional regulations to improve “accountability;”
  • And at all stages, put forward lies and distortions about school choice.

Fuller warned against looking to parental choice as a panacea to single-handedly transform American education. Transformation will come from school choice coupled with other strategies, he said, including action from parents willing to stand up and call for school choice. “But American education will never be transformed without parental choice,” declared Fuller, emphasizing the importance of giving poor parents the option of taking their children–and their education dollars–out of schools that weren’t working for them and putting them in other schools.

“It’s not about whether it’s a religious school,” Fuller said. “It’s about whether parents choose to send their children there.”

Parents Must Demand Choice

“There is no Christian math, Christian reading, or Christian social studies,” noted another conference speaker, Roberta Kitchen, a voucher parent from Cleveland. “I wanted [my children] to go to a place where what I was teaching at home would be encouraged.”

Advocacy on behalf of parental choice is still needed, outgoing NCEA President Leonard F. DeFiore reminded the educators, even though the U.S. Supreme Court had recognized the right of all parents to school choice in its 1925 Pierce decision. Under the present system, parents lose their sovereignty when their child reaches the age of five and enrolls in a public school.

A parent who exercises choice should not be taxed for that decision over and above the rest of the population, argued Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland. Noting about half of all Catholic children attend public schools rather than Catholic schools, he also urged Catholics to work “to make our public schools the best schools possible.”