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Church exec voices concerns with school voucher decision


WASHINGTON (UMNS)-- In commenting upon the Supreme Court's decision permitting the use of public funds to allow Cleveland schoolchildren to attend private and parochial schools, an executive of the United Methodist public action and advocacy agency stressed concern for the children who remain in the public schools.

The Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castanon of the denomination's Board of Church and Society said the church agency is afraid that the use of vouchers, which was upheld by the court's 5-4 decision on June 27, will drain limited resources from the public schools.

He noted that the church's highest legislative body, the General Conference, has long supported public education as an expression of concern for all people. A resolution on community life and public education first adopted in 1976 and revised in 2000 states: "The continuation of a democratic and pluralistic society in the United States requires a public education system that produces quality education of every student, so that all might contribute to the building of community."

Also without mentioning school vouchers, another resolution on public education and the church acknowledges the problems faced by families "trapped in failing urban schools." Without some public support, the possibility of sending their children to private or parochial schools may be closed to them, the resolution notes. It does not suggest one course of action but does caution that "public funds should be used for public purposes."

Using vouchers to place children in non-public schools raises issues of accountability, Valentin-Castanon said. Private and parochial schools are not generally accountable to the same degree as the public systems are with their local school boards and state education systems.

"Private schools decide who they will admit. They can pick and choose. They can pick the best and the brightest," he observed, adding that such schools can refuse the special needs student or the student who is different, racially or ethnically, or for whom English may not be their first language. So inclusivity is another area of concern, he commented.

Separation of church and state is another position the United Methodist Church has supported over the years, he noted, so there are issues related to supporting religious instruction with public dollars.

The church and the larger society will register objections, Valentine-Castanon predicted. This decision of the Supreme Court applies only to the case from Cleveland, but it has implications as a precedent for other states. Already, he noted, Rep. Richard Armey (R-Texas) has proposed a bill to promote use of vouchers in the District of Columbia, in spite of their repeated rejection by Washington voters.

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