School Choice a Major Election Issue

 

The Wall Street Journal calls this “The Year of School Choice.”  Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has called school choice “the civil-rights issue of our time.” What brings these people to such dramatic statements?

The recent GOP convention called special attention to the issue of school choice. Republicans rightly see this as an issue that crosses political lines and could bring them a significant increase in black and Hispanic voters’ support. In previous elections, Democrats have enjoyed greater than 90% support from black voters, but school choice is the issue that could significantly alter those numbers.

Democrats have thrown their support to the teachers unions that oppose school choice because it threatens their livelihood. Charter schools, which are taxpayer supported, do not allow teachers unions. The more these schools prosper, the worse it is for union coffers. Although charter schools frequently outperform their public-school counterparts, especially in poor minority communities, the teachers unions insist this is only because charter schools “cherry pick” the best students.

This argument doesn’t hold water since charter school admissions in large cities like New York are determined by lottery, not by student achievement. Furthermore, the number of unsuccessful lottery students who remain in the public-school system far exceeds those who are successful. In New York over 50,000 students annually apply for a lottery position.

The GOP convention highlighted this situation with testimony from those who have been affected. Terra Myers expressed her gratitude for an Ohio scholarship program that allowed her to find the best school for her son who has Down’s Syndrome. Rebecca Friedrich, a long-time California public school teacher, recalled her battle with unions that force teachers to pay dues to finance causes they don’t agree with. She lamented the cost of unions spending “hundreds of millions annually to defeat charter schools and school choice, trapping so many precious, low-income children in dangerous, corrupt and low-performing schools.”

 Black speakers were especially effective in their messaging. Kim Klacik, a Republican running for the Baltimore seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings said, “We want school choice.“ Former NFL star Jack Brewer said, “For the sake of our children, we can’t allow concerns about President Trump’s “tone” to allow Biden and Harris to deny underserved black and brown children their school of choice.”

The results of school choice cannot be denied. Charter schools routinely outperform public schools in the same community, often operating in the same buildings. Studies have even shown that choice causes public schools to improve. In Washington, D.C., where about 44,000 low-income kids are enrolled in charter schools and 1,800 receive private school vouchers, the share of fourth-graders and eighth-graders who scored proficient in math last year on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams doubled from 2009. Yet Joe Biden, whose sons attended Catholic Archmere Academy in Delaware, wants to eliminate the D.C. scholarship program. The only reason is his pledge of support for the teachers unions.

Mississippi, long considered a state of underachieving public education, has shown the largest learning gains in the country since establishing education-savings accounts in 2015. These accounts let parents purchase private educational services. The achievement gap since 2015 has fallen by half between whites and Hispanics and 15% between whites and black.

While the Democratic party claims to be greatly concerned about social justice, nothing matters more to social justice than educational opportunity. Too many public schools fail to provide it, especially in low-income urban neighborhoods. Joe Biden and the Democratic Party has chosen to support the teachers unions and ignore the needs of the parents and their children.

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