The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in favor of school vouchers, essentially government financial aid that parents can use to opt out of public school and send children to private and religious schools. The story is also atop the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox. USA Today runs a paired lead on two Supreme Court decisions on the final day of its term: the voucher ruling and a 5-4 decision that school districts can force students to take drug tests before joining any extracurricular activities, even, the coverage points out, the chess club and the band. The court's last ruling on the subject in 1995 said only student-athletes could be tested. In her dissent, the papers report, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the ruling "perverse" because the new rules focus on students who are the least likely to use drugs.
According to the papers, the court decided that the school voucher program in Cleveland, where 96 percent of voucher kids go to religious school, does not violate the Constitutional separation of church and state because parents are free to choose secular or religious schools and because the vouchers go to the parents first and not directly to the religious schools.
The WSJ and USAT voucher stories open with declarations that the decision creates a path toward a major transformation of American public education. Meanwhile, the NYT's opening paragraphs suggest that the path won't be straightforward because the ruling doesn't end the debate on school choice but instead shifts it to state courts and legislatures, and voters. Voucher programs have repeatedly been defeated in referendums, the paper reminds.
A USAT sidebar gives you a brief look at the history of school vouchers. And for a Slateanalysis of the ruling, click here.
The papers report that attendees at the G-8 economic conference pledged up to $6 billion in yearly aid to African countries if the countries reform their political and economic systems. G-8 leaders also agreed to spend $20 billion to dismantle Russian weapons of mass destruction.
The LAT and USAT front word that the House began investigations into WorldCom's accounting. One House committee subpoenaed three WorldCom executives and a Wall Street analyst who hyped the company's stock. Another House committee requested that WorldCom turn over internal audits, company board meeting minutes and other documents.
The WP fronts the unexpected departure of retired Gen. Wayne Downing, the administration official who has been coordinating the government's counter-terrorism offensive. The White House didn't give a reason for his stepping down and as far as the papers can tell, it doesn't seem Downing was requested to resign. As recently as June 17, the NYT cited Downing as a key member of President Bush's close circle of advisers who are developing the administration's new pre-emptive national security policy. Today's WP says that according to people who have worked with him, possible reasons for his departure include his unhappiness that his role in the administration proved more limited than he'd hoped, and the fact that his Iraq program—get Saddam with special ops, an air campaign and Iraqi rebels—was ruled out by the Joint Chiefs.
The NYT catches word that early Friday the House voted 221-208 in favor of a Republican plan for a prescription drug benefit for the elderly. Democrats charge the bill will benefit insurance companies more than those on Medicare. Senate Democrats have a very different prescription drug bill in mind so the House bill's future is uncertain.
Everyone reports that the College Board is revamping the SAT for 2005. The math will be more advanced, and the verbal analogies will be eliminated in favor of an essay that will be judged on its sentence structure and grammar.
The NYT reefers another installment of Elisabeth Rosenthal's very thorough reporting on the AIDS epidemic in China. She says that the U.N. took its complaint that China won't acknowledge the depth of the health crisis it faces public, saying the country must start effective education campaigns and treatment programs for the HIV-positive. The WP's piece emphasizes that the U.N. compared Chinese leaders with officers on the Titanic who didn't believe the ship was going down.
The second item in the WSJ's world-wide newsbox declares that Italy is the second European country to endorse Bush's position that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should go, after its prime minister said, "If I were Arafat, I'd make a grand gesture…Many are convinced Arafat can make a generous gesture and step down." The paper thinks that Prime Minister Tony Blair's U.K. also took up with Bush when he warned the Palestinians on Wednesday that "the consequences of electing people who aren't serious negotiating partners is that we can't move this forward." Yesterday's NYT and WP didn't buy that Blair's statement means that he has embraced Washington's position but merely meant that he "came the closest" of any country (WP's words) to being on board. Today's NYT relegates the Italian leader's quote to an online AP dispatch, and the WP ignores it, at least online.