Thursday, June 22, 2006

Democrats for (School) Choice

Clint Bolick is exactly right about the changes occurring in the Democratic Party and the reasons for it. There's still a LOOOOOONG road ahead of us however, and choice is only part of the solution. We also have to focus on reforming the existing system, where the overwhelming majority of children will be educated for the forseeable future, by, among many other things, attracting better teachers and principals into the system, evaluating them carefully and then holding the accountable for results by lavishly rewarding the best ones and quickly getting rid of the worst ones.

Another factor inducing a more supportive or tolerant attitude toward school choice among Democrats is that they are running out of viable alternatives. The U.S. Department of Education reported recently that three million children are attending chronically failing schools -- that is, schools that have failed to satisfy minimal state standards for at least six consecutive years.

Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, children in schools failing to make adequate progress are entitled to transfer to better-performing public schools within the district. Trouble is, the number of children eligible to transfer vastly exceeds the number of seats available in the better public schools. In Los Angeles, for example, only two of every 1,000 children in failing schools have transferred.

For Democrats who truly believe in social justice, that presents a terrible dilemma: Either forcing children to remain in schools where they have little prospect for a bright future, or enlisting private schools in a rescue mission. Democrats are increasingly unwilling to forsake the neediest children.


Democrats for (School) Choice

June 22, 2006; Page A17, WSJ


When the Arizona legislature concludes its 2006 session in a few days, it will set a record for school-choice legislation by enacting four new or expanded programs allowing disadvantaged children to attend private schools. Even more remarkable: The programs were enacted in a state with a Democratic governor.

Yet Arizona is not an aberration. Already in 2006, a new Iowa corporate scholarship tax credit bill was signed into law by Gov. Tom Vilsack; and in Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill increasing the Milwaukee voucher program by 50%. Gov. Ed Rendell may expand Pennsylvania's corporate scholarship tax credit program, as he did last year. Messrs. Vilsack, Doyle and Rendell are all Democrats.

And last year, hell froze over: Sen. Ted Kennedy endorsed the inclusion of private schools in a rescue effort for over 300,000 children displaced from their schools by Hurricane Katrina. As a result, tens of thousands of kids are attending private schools using federal funds, amounting to the largest (albeit temporary) voucher program ever enacted. Before that, a voucher program for the District of Columbia was established with support from Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Joseph Lieberman.

What gives?

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