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'A New Day Will Dawn': Coalition Sees Better Climate for Private-School Aid

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Philadelphia--Today's political climate will make it easier to advance the cause of public aid to private schools than it has been in more than two decades, according to speakers at the 25th annual conference of Citizens for Educational Freedom here.

More than 100 members of cef, a Washington-based coalition of parents, educators, clergymen, and public officials who support and actively lobby for public aid to private schools, gathered on Sept. 21 to celebrate the recent progress of their cause and to discuss strategies for continuing that momentum.

Religious Groups Joined

Martin P. Mullen, a former Congressman from Pennsylvania who acted as chairman of the conference, attributed the advances of the past few years to the joint efforts of Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic groups and to the emergence of political candidates who support such aid.

"Once the Protestants have more children in private school, there is hope," he said.

And if current efforts by religious groups to promote political candidates are successful in the upcoming election, Mr. Mullen predicted, ''a new day will dawn and we'll have a new Supreme Court."

Mr. Mullen told conference participants that in Pennsylvania there has never been a problem adopting legislation that aids private schools, but that "you can't get it by the Supreme Court."

In his opening remarks, Mr. Mullen also reminded the group of the importance of its work. "If we don't get aid, there is no survival [of religious schools]," he said.

National Efforts

At the national level, "if there is a shake-up in Congress at all" this fall, tuition tax-credit legislation that failed last November could be adopted, said Charles O'Malley, executive assistant for private education at the U.S. Education Department. (See Education Week, Nov. 23, 1983.)

"We're back at the drawing board trying to see what's going to happen after the election," he said. "And I think we're going to get that doggone thing through."

Mr. O'Malley told the group that an hour before the final 59-to-38 vote on the tax-credit legislation was taken on the floor of the Senate last year, a poll of senators conducted by Education Department officials indicated that 44 opposed the bill, 44 supported it, and 10 were undecided.

"Somewhere along the line we lost them, and right now we're trying to find out why we lost them and what we can do to change their minds,'' he said. Department officials have scheduled an internal meeting to address the issues of tuition tax credits and vouchers, and Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell plans to meet soon with leaders of private education to discuss strategies related to both issues, Mr. O'Malley said.

A Subtler Approach

But the direct aid to religious schools that would be gained under voucher and tuition tax-credit proposals may not be the best strategy, according to Rabbi Bernard Goldenberg, director emeritus of the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools.

"I'm afraid this is going to cause an intensive emotional reaction,'' Rabbi Goldenberg said.

He advocated a more subtle approach that would "assert logically, delicately, in an articulate fashion, the fact that we belong."

Private-school educators must make the entire educational system aware of the political and economic advantages of supporting nonpublic education so that eventually they will look to private education as an ally in improving the entire system, he said.

Avoid Government Control

Another speaker also cautioned the group to remember that in the struggle to provide all parents with the financial ability to choose private education, it is critical to eschew the governmental control that usually accompanies government funds.

"All our good efforts for tuition tax credits, for vouchers, for other aspects of social justice for parents and for schools will be meaningless if private educators are made mere agents of the state and private education is made to become a carbon copy of governmental education," said William B. Ball, a lawyer who has represented several religious schools in legal battles against state regulation.

In his address to the conference, Mr. Ball recalled Wisconsin v. Yoder, the 1972 Supreme Court case in which Amish parents sought exemption from a state law requiring their children to attend school beyond the 8th grade. The parents argued that the state's compulsory-attendance law was contrary to the tenets of the Old Order Amish communities and violated their First and 14th Amendment rights.

In lower-court proceedings, Mr. Ball said, a witness who spoke on behalf of the Amish parents was asked, "But isn't the real purpose of education to prepare a youngster how to get along in this world?"

After a moment's pause, the witness replied: "It all depends on which world."

"We've got to have clearly established in our law the freedom of those parents who love God enough to say that they will choose an education whose purpose is to fit the child for the other world," Mr. Ball said.

Tedious Process

In an earlier session at the conference, John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia, called the lack of public funding for private schools in the United States an "ugly blemish of injustice," adding that America is the "only country in the free world that tolerates such injustice."

In Ireland and England, for example, the government funds 100 percent of the operating costs of private schools, the Cardinal said.

He also told conference participants not to waver in their support of public aid to private schools. "The process of litigation and legislation is a tedious one, but it should not deter us from our mission," he said.

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