School choice

Charter schools improve outcomes for children, particularly those from low-income households in large American cities. (Getty Images)

If Republicans are smart heading into 2020, they will focus on a mantra of “Education equality.” It is the single best wedge issue Republicans have during an election cycle in which voters will take a bull-market economy for granted. The GOP’s education platform could hoist Democrats on their own petard.

In Democratic primaries throughout the country, candidates have nothing much to offer to struggling middle-class and low-income families. Few Americans peg their hopes and dreams on reparations for slavery or weird promises of guaranteed incomes from the government. They want increasing opportunities to work and succeed. They want the old-fashioned American dream, and education is key.

Republicans don’t need a new education agenda. They have school choice — otherwise known as educational freedom — which they have honed for at least the past three decades. They have worked to even the playing field among rich, middle-class and poor families by giving all children equal access to high-performing schools.

Republicans do this with open enrollment policies that liberate children from attending schools attached to their addresses. They empower parents to create charter schools that focus on the special needs of students who don’t fit the one-size-fits-all model of traditional attendance centers. Republicans advocate tax-exempt voucher and scholarship programs to subsidize private school tuition.

With a large and growing assortment of innovative school choice mechanisms, Republicans have toppled economic obstacles that have long separated rich kids from poor kids. Through educational freedom, Republicans have become advocates of equality for children who have no control over their economic plights.

Meanwhile, Democrats are increasingly vocal opponents of school choice. They oppose it to appease the National Education Association and the union’s state and local chapters. Education unions despise school choice because it disrupts the comfort zones of the establishment. It creates competition the union dislikes. The teachers unions are no less important to Democrats than evangelicals are to Republicans.

“Democratic candidates are backing away from charter schools, and siding with the teachers unions that oppose their expansion. And that has left some black and Latino families feeling betrayed,” explains a Nov. 26 news story in The New York Times. “…charter schools that serve mostly low-income children of color in large cities tend to excel academically.”

The Times quotes Richard Buery Jr., an African American, Democrat and chief of policy for the country’s largest charter school network, saying Democratic opposition to school choice “broadly” shows a “lack of respect for black voters.”

The anti-school choice platform of former Senate candidate Andrew Gillum, the African American mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., cost Democrats the Florida governor’s race in 2018. Black suburban, urban and rural women voted for white Republican Ron DeSantis in droves because he supported school choice.

In Colorado’s Senate primary, leading candidates Andrew Romanoff and John Hickenlooper are mum on school choice. They saw Democrats boo a school-choice Democrat off the stage of the Colorado Democratic Convention in 2018. They watched anti-choice Democrats at the convention nearly keep Gov. Jared Polis, a school-choice Democrat, off the general election ballot.

Growing opposition to choice from the party’s left-wing base could not come at a worse time for Democratic candidates. With or without the education dilemma, Democrats are on the verge of losing blacks and other minorities to an exodus encouraged by celebrities as diverse as rapper Kanye West and millennial conservative pundit Candace Owens.

Recent separate polls by Rasmussen and Emerson College find black support for President Donald Trump above 34% — a staggering number for any Republican. The Emerson poll shows a 17% increase in black support for Trump in just one month.

Colorado’s Republican Sen. Cory Gardner should push school choice and corner his opponents during their primary battles. Demand to know their level of support for scholarships, vouchers, and charters that level the playing field — not just for minorities, but for all children from middle-class and low-income households. Highlight the Democratic field’s allegiance to the union first; low-income families somewhere-down-the-list.

Trump, while entertaining those sold-out arenas, should champion school choice and highlight the Democratic Party’s near-universal opposition to leveling opportunities for kids.

Resistance to school choice amounts to de facto opposition to the spirit of civil rights battles that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education — the school choice decision that ended forced segregation of black pupils from their white peers. Today’s segregation is less directly about race; more about the racial ramifications of economic injustice that results from union-first, child-second enrollment policies.

Republicans should learn it and repeat it: “Education equality.” It is a no-lose, win-win platform. More importantly, it is the right thing to do by America’s kids.

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