United States experiments in choice are limited to public schools only. Programs
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, East Harlem, and Minnesota allow some form of
public choice. In Cambridge, the percent of students choosing to attend public
schools rose from 74°1o to 82°% after choice was allowed. In East Harlem, two
schools which failed to attract students were closed and later reopened with new
staff and programs.
Importantly, pursuant to state legislation, up to 1,000 Milwaukee public school
children from low-income families were allowed to attend private, non-religious
schools at state expense under a choice plan. The initial indications are
encouraging. One mother when asked
whether her son was thriving in his new private school said: "He doesn't like
it. It's a serious school where they give him homework and want him to learn.
The classes are smaller and they know what he's doing. He's not accustomed to
being in any class where they are paid any attention."
While choice offers real
hope for improving the education of the poor and the non-white, and while
sponsored by Polly Williams, a black legislator from the inner city, a list of
opponents is instructive. Opponents include the superintendent of public
instruction for the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Education Association
Council, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(Milwaukee Branch), the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators,
Wisconsin Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc., and the Wisconsin Federation
Superintendent Grover, who
publicly opposed the program prior to its passage, encouraged, indeed welcomed,
a suit challenging the law.
 His opposition is based on the view that the law
allows public funds to pass to private schools unaccompanied by sufficient
control and accountability to ensure the quality of teachers and curriculum. He
also expressed concern that the program would drain Milwaukee public school
funding without a comparable reduction in the fixed cost of maintaining those
public schools, leading either to an increase in Milwaukee property taxes or to
a reduction in the level of services to students remaining in public schools. A
Wisconsin state court of appeals ruled in November 1990 that the legislation was
unconstitutional. State officials are allowing students to remain in private
schools while appeals are exhausted.
Again, the unelected
special interest groups and their champions rise to prevent poor people from
choosing. Polly Williams criticized the traditional remedy for the poor:
desegregation. She believed that the poor and the non-white need both the power
and the responsibility to educate their own. Finding the Milwaukee public school
bureaucracy unresponsive to her ideas, she pushed for private choice.
remains to be seen whether the Wisconsin courts will allow the poor to choose or
By contrast, in 1917 the
Netherlands enacted a constitutional amendment guaranteeing full-blown choice.
Any responsible group, public or private, is guaranteed the right to private
education. Discrimination in funding is precluded. Public schools and private
schools are treated equally with regard to funding. Moreover, in regulating
private schools, "due regard must be paid to their own freedom to private
education in accordance with their religious beliefs." In 1920, nearly 70
percent of Dutch children attended public schools. Today more than 70 percent
attend private schools.
Accordingly, it is
understandable that superintendents, teacher unions, school administrators, and
perhaps the NAACP would oppose programs such as Milwaukee's which would give
true power to poor, non-white parents while taking it away from bureaucrats.