Think Tanks wrap-up

March 19, 2002 at 5:39 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- Think Tanks Wrap-up

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks.

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- School Choice -- Then and Now

By Casey J. Lartigue Jr.

When religious liberty activist Barry Lynn reminded the audience at a recent Cato policy forum that racists used school vouchers to evade the 1954 landmark Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka decision, the woman seated next to me let out a loud sigh. Virginia Walden-Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, said she clearly recalls those tumultuous days -- and believes they are irrelevant to the current discussion about school choice.

During the 1960s she attended Central High in Arkansas, where the Little Rock Nine integrated the school in 1957. Around the country, white parents used voucher programs to flee public schools when integration loomed at their neighborhood schools. Some schools were shut down in defiance of the Brown decision.

According to Stetson Kennedy in the 1959 book "The Jim Crow Guide: The Way It Was": "Both Arkansas and Virginia went ahead with their plans to close all schools affected by integration orders; in the latter state 13,000 students were left without instruction by the closure of nine schools."

Walden-Ford notes with both regret and pride that black families united to teach children in makeshift schools and their homes. But when she hears critics argue that school choice is inherently racist, Walden-Ford is blunt: "That's nonsense. That was then. Right now we're talking about opportunities for kids."

Some public school defenders hearken back to segregationist academies from the 1960s, but they don't discuss the discriminatory roots and history of public schools. That starts with lawmakers cutting off money to public schools after the influx of Catholic immigrants in the 1840s.

It wasn't until 1916 that there were as many blacks in public high schools as there were in private schools -- and blacks in all public schools were in separate and unequal facilities. The Brown decision itself was a response to a century of segregated public schools.

Choice opponents who cite the segregationist academies of the 1960s also avoid mentioning the 1925 Pierce v. Society of Sisters case. Oregon's Compulsory Education Act required that parents send their children between the ages of eight and 16 "to a public school for the period of time a public school shall be held during the current year."

The Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, concluded that the Act "unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control." Among the biggest boosters of the Act forcing all children into public schools? None other than the Ku Klux Klan.

The King Kleagle of the KKK hailed the ballot initiative when it passed in 1922: "[The Ku Klux Klan] with its white-robed sentinels keeping eternal watch, shall for all time, with its blazing torches as signal fires, stand guard on the outer walls of the Temple of Liberty, cry out the warning when danger appears and take its place in the front rank of defenders of the public schools."

Another Klansman leader stated: "I believe that our Free Public School is the cornerstone of good government and that those who are seeking to destroy it are enemies of our Republic and are unworthy of citizenship."

Nonetheless, images of segregationist voucher plans work to silence blacks who recall those days. It shouldn't be surprising that a survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in the year 2000 found that 48 percent of blacks older than 50 oppose school choice (44 percent expressed support).

But the warnings that school choice "turns back the clock" is not resonating with younger blacks. According to the same survey, almost 60 percent of blacks support vouchers. The numbers were even higher for people under 35 (75 percent) and people with children in the household (74 percent).

"The unions and others opposed to choice don't have anything else to fight with, so they talk about the 1960s," says Walden-Ford.

(Casey J. Lartigue is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute.)

Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)


*Frida Berrigan, senior research associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute.

"If President Bush has his way, total military spending for 2003 will reach $396 billion, an $87 billion increase from January 2001. It would be the largest increase since the Reagan administration. But this spending spree has little to do with fighting the war on terrorism. About one-third of the $68 billion allocated for weapons procurement will pay for Cold War systems with no relevance to the current war. This includes an additional $12 billion for Joint Strike Fighter, F-22 and Super Hornet fighter plane programs. On the campaign trail, Bush repeatedly said the U.S. did not need all three systems. At a time when Americans are being asked to make hard choices in a tough economy, the Pentagon is holding onto the Cold War relics of yesterday while fighting the anti-terrorism wars of today and tomorrow. We cannot afford to have it both ways."

*James M. Cypher, professor of economics at California State University, Fresno, and author of the cover story in the new issue of Dollars and Sense: "Return of

the Iron Triangle: The New Military Buildup."

"The 'Iron Triangle' forms the U.S. military establishment's decision-making structure

and includes its major interest groups. One side of the triangle includes the 'civilian' agencies that shape U.S. military policy -- the Office of the President, the National Security Council, the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and civilian intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA. A second side includes the military institutions -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top brass of the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy, the powerful 'proconsul' regional commands and, in a supporting role, veterans' organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the base of the triangle are the 85,000 private firms that profit from the military contracting system, and that use their sway over millions of defense workers to push for ever-higher military budgets.

Even before Sept. 11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld advocated a revised military budget with a total spending increase of $52 billion. He still favored, however, reconfiguring the military along cyber-age 'Revolution in Military Affairs' lines, reducing military units, cutting bases, and retiring unneeded weapons systems.... Now, Rumsfeld will be able to make a down payment on the RMA, while the vested interests will see plenty of funds for the old-style 'legacy system' military.... Fighter-plane programs will get an incredible $400 billion in new multi-year contracts. Lockheed Martin will get $225 billion over 12 years to build nearly 3,000 Joint Strike Fighter planes for the Air Force, Marines, and Navy. According to Business Week, Lockheed also stands to make $175 billion in sales to foreign buyers over the next 25 years. Drowning in its record trade deficit, the United States desperately needs the boost to the trade balance provided by arms exports."

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