School Choice for the Next Millennium

Published January 1, 2000

Treat everyone the same, with a fair share for each person: The idea is so basic that children learn it in kindergarten, long before they’re able to express it as a fundamental concept of the rule of law.

But that wasn’t what the National Education Association wanted to do when it helped write the first federal education funding bill in the late 1950s. The Murray-Metcalfe Bill proposed taking tax dollars intended for children in all U.S. schools and sharing them only among children in public schools.

Taken aback by the brazen injustice of what they called the “Teacher’s Pet” Law, eight concerned citizens got together in the kitchen of Mae and Martin Duggan’s home in St. Louis in April 1959 and formed Citizens for Educational Freedom to promote the principle of “A Fair Share for Every Child.”

The group succeeded in holding off the NEA proposal until 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson finally gained approval for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which–for the purposes of federal education funding–required that children in private schools be treated the same way as children in public schools.

“Yes, I had a dream that all children in America would be treated equally,” said Mae Duggan, recounting the history of CEF at the group’s Fortieth Anniversary Celebration in St. Louis on October 16, 1999. Now, at the dawn of the Third Millennium, she expressed confidence that the school choice movement is on “the final march to victory.”

Although current court battles are being fought over the constitutionality of parents using education tax dollars at nonpublic schools, Martin Duggan pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of parental rights in education almost 75 years ago in the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925). This case came about because the state of Oregon had passed a law making attendance at public schools compulsory, in effect outlawing private schools. In striking down the law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled:

“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

“Education is a ‘mom and pop’ business,” added Mae Duggan. “It should not be put out of business by a government monopoly.”