Wednesday, October 17, 2007

will Democrats (eventually) lead the charge on school choice

As Jim Waters at BIPPS points out in his op-ed piece, Democrats are more natural constituents of school choice, since it speaks to personal freedoms on social issues, and especially, the plight of the (inner-city) poor. (A similar argument can be made with respect to abortion, but that's a different post.) And it's questionable whether Republicans really care all that much. If we're waiting on Republican politicians to push choice, it may be a long time in coming!

The problem for Democratic politicians is that most of them are largely captive to interest groups, including those who benefit from the status quo in education. This is a relatively common problem for them. For example, they sacrifice the working poor and middle classes to demagogue Social Security reform and ignore the staggering burden of payroll taxes. But some day, maybe they'll overlook the political benefits to embrace economic reform and justice.

Don’t be surprised if Democrats wind up leading the charge for school choice in Kentucky.

They have done it in other states.

• In Arizona, under Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, four new school-choice programs started in 2006, which allow disadvantaged children to attend private schools.

• In Iowa, Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, signed into law a new corporate scholarship tax-credit bill allowing businesses to fund tuition scholarships for needy children.

• In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, signed into law a bill expanding by 50 percent the highly successful, court-tested – and court-approved – Milwaukee voucher program.

And here in Kentucky?

A recent Bluegrass Institute survey showed that 79 percent of Democrats responding support giving parents more options in determining their children’s education.

While a majority of Democrats responding to the survey said they believe every form of school choice “would be good for Kentucky education,” they favored scholarship tax credits the most (71 percent) among options that would allow children to attend nonpublic schools.

In fact, a Democrat first proposed the idea of tax credits in America. The late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York nearly succeeded in getting an education tax-credit bill passed in the early 1970s. Moynihan later chastised his party for allowing political considerations to remain an obstacle to greater educational freedom for America’s needy students.

“I do not think that the prospect of change in (education) is enhanced by the abandonment of pluralism and choice as liberal ideas and liberal values,” he said.

Indeed, it makes sense for Democrats to lead the charge for educational liberty. While known for their loyalty to teacher unions and education bureaucracies, Democrats also remain fiercely proud of their role as advocates of the poor, especially minorities in urban areas.

However, they face difficulty maintaining that signature if they ignore the pleas of these constituents who want more choices.


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