My friend Jeanne Allen from the indispensable Center for Education Reform calls school choice “the civil rights issue of our time.” She’s so right. The issue is teed up for Republicans because Democrats and the teachers unions (they are one in the same) despise school choice.
So Republicans can run with the issue because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s a way for them to demonstrate that they care about those at the bottom of the income scale.
But sometimes I wonder if they do.
Last year Republicans did something unforgivable and monumentally stupid. The House leadership admits that they “inadvertently” left out of the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that passed late last year a Washington, D.C. voucher program for poor black and Hispanic parents. Can you imagine the Democrats forgetting to fund their deranged climate change agenda? No chance.
Apparently Republicans were too busy funding the Export Import Bank and sanctuary cities.
But these minority parents should have been the highest priority if Republicans still want America to be an opportunity society.
The Washington, D.C. school voucher program was created in 2004 and was the handiwork of John Boehner and President George W. Bush. Its budget is only $25 million, which is chump change in Washington and less than 0.1% of federal education spending — which went up last year without funding the one program that works.
It used to be that Democrats could plausibly argue that vouchers won’t work. But now we have many real life examples in places like Milwaukee which show irrefutably that they do.
The D.C. voucher program has helped thousands of very low-income and mostly black kids opt out of the often dismal public D.C. schools and into high-performing private and Catholic schools. A major assessment funded by the Department of Education found the graduation rates for the students with vouchers is an estimated 12 percentage points higher than for those who didn’t get the vouchers. More of the kids go on to college — some to Harvard and Yale. The odds are high that a large percentage of these kids will be financially successful and rise into the middle class or higher. Is there a better way to reduce income inequality?
Last year I wrote a feature for the Wall Street Journal on the program from the ground floor. I met and interviewed several dozen of the parents and kids and came away an ecstatic supporter. The politicians should meet these kids too because the impressive results hit you right in the face. Joseph Kelley is a single father with several kids who have received vouchers and I visited him and his son, who is now in college.
“The public schools in my neighborhood aren’t just extremely poor academically, they are physically unsafe,” Joe told me. “At our neighborhood school there was cursing and shoving with a total breakdown in any discipline. Total mayhem. I couldn’t expose my son to this environment and those bullying kids.” He said “there wasn’t much learning going on” and the teachers and principal “didn’t want me sticking my nose into their business — as if I were the problem.”
How many politicians would send their kids to such schools?
Republicans don’t have any legislative agenda for this year. Why not make school vouchers for all kids in failing schools the highest priority for 2016?
Make it clear to Obama that no government funding will happen this year without the D.C. scholarship program. Stand with these parents.
Barack Obama has school choice. He sends his daughters to one of the most expensive private schools in D.C., or America for that matter. The president’s daughters sit next to some of the voucher kids. But Obama wants to kill the program, because apparently only rich people should get to go to the finest schools.
If Obama wants to shut down the government to stop school choice for poor minority kids, let him. And if Republicans won’t fight for this program, maybe Hillary is right and they are the party that just cares about the rich.
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