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Compton Unified Presents the Best Case for Vouchers

Education: Two lawsuits charge that the rights of Compton's children are being trampled.

November 29, 1998|ALAN BONSTEEL and CARLOS A. BONILLA | Alan Bonsteel and Carlos A. Bonilla are coauthors of "A Choice for Our Children: Curing the Crisis in America's Schools" (Institute for Contemporary Studies, Oakland, 1997)

The California Department of Education took over the Compton Unified School District in 1993 because of mismanagement and bankruptcy. That was the same year that Proposition 174, the initiative for school choice, was defeated. With great fanfare, the department announced that the Compton district would become a model for successful new programs in inner-city education.

Five years later, Compton's more diplomatic African American leaders refer to Compton Unified as a "kleptocracy." The more outspoken characterize its policies as "genocide."

In late 1997, the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the children of Compton, charging that the state was violating the constitutional right of the children of Compton to an education. The court ordered such educational innovations as sanitary drinking water, toilet paper and textbooks, with a deadline of December 1998, which the state clearly won't make.

In September, a second lawsuit was filed by the Rev. Herbert Rice and 14 other Compton parents on behalf of 1,200 students whose grades, they allege, had been falsified downward. The lawsuit is supported by 18 pages of exhibits, including report cards in which A's had been amateurishly changed to F's using whiteout and notices of promotion of the students that were later rescinded en masse without explanation. The motivation in this fraud is that the kleptocracy in Compton was broke once again and needed average daily attendance money for sending 1,200 kids to summer school. They also hoped to point to the "improvement" in grades of these 1,200 students following this "innovative" summer school program--even though the kids had already passed the subjects in which they were being tutored.

The Compton debacle raises some profound questions. The most obvious: If state Schools Supt. Delaine Eastin and her department can't manage even a moderate-sized school district, why are they being permitted to dictate to the other 998 school districts in California? An equally crucial question is why, when not just Compton but all of California's big-city school districts have been abject failures at educating inner-city kids, is the public education establishment still opposing Gov. Pete Wilson's "opportunity scholarship" school vouchers for the most disadvantaged kids?

In early October, the department and the local Compton municipal government reached an agreement to try to work together during these troubling times. But that doesn't change the fact that the state and the Compton district can expect to lose both of the lawsuits they are facing, nor does it alter the catastrophic consequences of losing an entire generation of Compton's teenagers.

There are reasons why low-income African American and Latino families are now the strongest supporters of school choice. Their children's chance at realizing the American dream is ebbing with the meltdown of our inner-city public schools.

The kids in Compton and around the state deserve better.

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