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David Kirkpatrick


School Choice Crosses Ideological Lines

by David W. Kirkpatrick,
Senior Education Fellow, US Freedom Foundation
 

This issue is largely perceived as one Conservatives support and liberals oppose and, as many have observed, in politics perception is often reality. In this instance perception reverses reality. School choice emerged as a liberal idea from the pen of Adam Smith and remained largely so until recent decades when too many liberals, thanks largely to resistance from the Democrats "most powerful and unforgiving special interest" the teacher unions, most particularly the National Education Association,,(of which I am a life member) lost their way and/or their political courage. The growing desperate circumstances of the schools, both educational and financial, is overcoming this falsely-based resistance and giving growing ranks of liberals the courage to join conservatives and the general public and recapture their heritage.

Here are some of the liberals who have endorsed school choice beginning in 1776.

Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, 1776 - apparently the first to do so

Thomas Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782

Thomas Paine, in The Rights of Man, 1792

John Stuart Mill, in his essay On Liberty, 1859

Sen. Patrick Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) who unsuccessfully sponsored school choice legislation in Congress He said he favored school choice "long before it was either conservative or liberal," and, "if it prevails only as a conservative cause, it will have been a great failure of American liberalism..." "(I)n the late 1960s, educational vouchers were generally regarded as a progressive proposal. All liberal faculty members would wish to be associated with it. Good foundations would support it .But within the space of a decade this proposal was somehow transformed into a 'bastion of white privilege and exclusivity...I do not think that the prospect of change in this area is enhanced by the abandonment of pluralism and choice as liberal ideas and liberal values...if it prevails only as a conservative cause, it will have been a great failure of American liberalism."

Hubert Humphrey as long ago as 1968 favored giving parents a tax credit so they could send their children to private schools.

Christopher Jencks, who headed a group for the Center for the Study of Public Policy, Cambridge, Massachusetts which produced a favorable report, Education Vouchers, December 1970, for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity

Colin Powell, when interviewed by the NEA, forthrightly said "I support using vouchers and seeing where it takes us..."

Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, referring to the controversy of the scholarship program there, which, in 2002, was held to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court ,said "We've got to stop having a knee-jerk opposition to school vouchers..."

Wisconsin state Rep. Annette "Polly" Williams sponsored the state school choice plan in Milwaukee. A liberal Democrat, she was twice the state chairman of the Jesse Jackson for President campaign. She was joined in her support by Milwaukee mayor John Norquist, a liberal and a former labor leader and school board member John Gardner. Milwaukee's Black superintendent at the time, Howard Fuller, has since formed the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

A national survey of 2,732 teachers found 53% believing "schools would be better if students could attend the school of their choice." (Unfortunately their courage doesn't match their convictions.)

A number of opinion surveys have found that a majority of Blacks, Hispanics, and low-income Americans favor vouchers.

President Bill Clinton supported private voucher programs and hosted recipients at the White House. The bipartisan board of The Children's Scholarship Fund, has included Martin Luther King III, and then--Senators Moynihan (D-NY), Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) And Trent Lott (R-MIss.)

If these are among those referred to as "fruit-cakes," "voucher vultures," "racists," "communists," or members of the "radical right," one might ask where were these dangerous people educated?

As for school "bashers":

Who said inner city schools "are absolutely terrible — they ought to be blown up;" that we can't let the kids "escape"? Keith Geiger, then-NEA President who also said choice supporters are "pushers."

And who said, "It is time to admit that public education...more resembles a communist economy than our own market economy"? The late Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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