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President to encourage adoption of vouchers to improve schools

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush said July 1 he would encourage school districts to adopt vouchers as one of the methods for improving public education.

Speaking in Cleveland, Ohio, Bush hailed the Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling in favor of a school-choice program in that city that permits vouchers to be used at religious and other private schools.

“One of my jobs is to make sure that we continue to insist upon reform, to take this court decision and encourage others to make the same decision at the local level,” the president said.

The high court “gave a great victory to parents and students throughout the nation by upholding the decisions made by local folks here” in Cleveland, Bush said.

“It is a constructive approach to improving public education,” he said. “We’re interested in aiming toward excellence for every child. And the voucher system is a part of that strategy to achieve that here in Cleveland.”

The president compared the ruling to the justices’ 1954 Brown v. Board of Education opinion, an analogy some other advocates of vouchers also made. The Brown decision outlawed the “separate but equal” doctrine and resulted in the end of segregated public schools.

In Brown, the court “declared that our nation cannot have two education systems,” Bush said. “And that was the right decision. [You] can’t have two systems, one for African Americans and one for whites. Last week, what’s notable and important, is that the court declared that our nation will not accept one education system for those who can afford to send their children to a school of their choice and [another] for those who can’t. And that’s just as historic.”

The Supreme Court, in its June 27 decision, said the Cleveland program is “entirely neutral with respect to religion” and does not violate the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion. The vote was 5-4.

The justices overturned an opinion by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program violated the separation of church and state, because most of the schools in which vouchers are used are religious ones.

Among its options, the program allows a family to use a voucher of as much as $2,250 in state funds for tuition cost at the secular or religious private school of its choice. The Ohio legislature adopted the program in response to a massive failure of the Cleveland public schools to meet the state’s performance standards. Priority is given to low-income families.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also applauded the Supreme Court’s ruling and described it as the most significant in impacting public education since the Brown decision.

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