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The Politics of School Choice.

The Politics of School Choice. By Hubert Morken and Jo Renee Formicola. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999. 335 pp. np.

Morken and Formicola have &me the field of political science a great service in providing the first comprehensive treatment of the school choice movement. To assist the student in understanding the concept of "school choice," the authors suggest a continuum with public funding limited to public schools on the one end and the ability of a parent to purchase any kind of education at any time, anywhere, for their child on the other end. The debate centers around the pros and cons of a school falling within the continuum.

The authors' purpose in writing this book was to explore the activities of "those promoting a free market system of education using various means, including charters, tax credits, private scholarships, public vouchers, and by some, withdrawal from public schools." Their conclusion after their study was that "school choice, as a political movement, is coalescing slowly and unevenly around the United States across racial, religious, economic, moral, and ideological lines."

Those of us who have read literature in this area have often taken the path of least resistance in trying to pigeonhole the issue of school choice--i.e, it is a Catholic issue. After all, it was a disgruntled taxpayer seeing what she felt was preferential treatment to the Catholic schools in New York that resulted in the Everson v. Board of Education decision in 1947. Perhaps that decision has done more to act as a catalyst to spark the modem interest in church-state studies than any other. After reading this volume, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that "school choice" is not only a Catholic issue--it is now a conservative, a libertarian, an entrepreneurial, an African-American, an evangelical, a Hispanic, a protestant issue. And the list keeps growing!

Certainly, as the authors point out, "school choice is an idea whose time is coming." While it is a topic of public debate it has yet to break into a "full-fledged political movement." This is due, according to the authors, to the diversity of opinions as to what school choice ought to be. There are as many different proposals as there are interested parties in the subject. Ultimately, "while there is a political need to reconcile these views for the simplicity of legislation and programming there is a philosophical need to create a system that can virtually accommodate all sides for school choice." To arrive at such a point there will have to emerge a national leader who champions the cause of choice.

I highly recommend this volume for everyone involved in the school choice issue--from the activist to the scholar in political science. The stories told in this volume like that of Howard Fuller, former Superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools, or Don Eberly, Chairman of the REACH Alliance in Pennsylvania, put faces to a very complex issue in American public policy. One cannot but be enamored by these vignettes. Finally, the book is very well written.

BARRY BUSSEY Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Bussey, Barry
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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