Politics of the ’90s told us “it’s the economy, stupid.” The early 2000s brought us health care. Going forward, look for education as the big new political sledge.
Republicans cannot win future nationwide elections without taking Florida, the whopper of all swing states. Education reform will be their saving grace in the Seminole state and other strategic battlegrounds.
In an odd twist of fate, teachers’ unions have become a de facto asset for Republicans and an albatross for Democrats.
Consider the victory of Republican Ron DeSantis over Democrat Andrew Gillum in the Florida governor’s race. Gillum presented voters the opportunity to elect a dynamic, attractive, affable 39-year-old darling of the media.
Gillum is black and DeSantis is white. Yet Gillum won less support among African-American women than most white Democrats receive from that demographic. It cost him the election.
An unusually high 18 percent of black women who voted in Florida chose DeSantis. That translates into 100,000 black female votes for DeSantis in a race decided by fewer than 40,000 votes.
Gillum’s loyalty to the teachers’ union, as explained by a Wall Street Journal article, put him on the wrong side of what former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls “the civil rights issue of our time.”
In seeking and accepting the union’s support, Gillum became an avowed opponent of tax-credit funded scholarships (we used to call them vouchers) that help low-income parents put their children in high-performing private schools.
As explained in the Journal article by William Mattox, more than 100,000 low-income Florida students use the state’s Step Up For Students program to pay private tuition with tax-funded scholarships.
“Most Step Up students are minorities whose mothers are registered Democrats,” explains Mattox.
In addition to the disproportionate support black mothers gave him, DeSantis won 44 percent of the Latino vote.
School choice has become a divisive issue in Colorado, as the Colorado Education Association supports those Democrats most opposed vouchers, charters and other innovative school choice options.
The state’s Democratic base booed Democrats for Education Reform Director Jennifer Walmer off stage at the state assembly in Broomfield in April. A packed arena voted overwhelmingly to demand Walmer’s organization stop using “Democrats” in its name.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, supports school choice and has launched charter schools designed to help underprivileged children. For that, assembly Democrats almost kept him off the primary ballot. Polis went on to win the governor’s race by 10.65 percentage points and will likely govern as a school choice advocate.
For the past two decades, Republicans convinced Democrats to join them in efforts to advance school choice. Charter schools, relaxed home-school regulations, and scholarship/voucher programs have made a good bipartisan issue supported by politicians who want to help low-income families.
Pro-school-choice policies tell low-income parents their children are no less important than children of the rich. School choice evens the odds each child will succeed as an adult, regardless of a family’s economic status.
Meanwhile, teachers’ unions are increasingly hostile to the proliferation of school choice. It creates burdensome competition among schools, disrupting a traditional one-size-fits-all attendance model that provides more ease and stability for administrators and faculty.
Teachers’ unions, as seen at the state assembly, are a major constituency of the Democratic base. They fund and endorse those candidates least favorable to school choice, demanding their loyalty in return.
The equation creates a general-election conundrum for swing-state Democrats and an opportunity for their Republican counterparts.
Democrats are winning on health care reform, and Republicans may never catch up. Conversely, Republicans have the edge on education reform with a philosophy the Democratic base can no longer embrace. By exploiting this equation, the GOP may remain viable in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other important swing states — even Colorado.
As seen in Florida, enlightened parents vote for their children above party, race, and all other concerns.
the gazette editorial board