Nor does he think the No Child Left Behind Act is unconstitutional. "If it's employed properly, it could be constitutional," he said. "A lot of people say that it's the federal government telling you exactly what you can do. It does not do that. What it does say is that states will have benchmarks, they'll have to set what those are, and how they determine those will then ultimately determine whether they receive federal funding for certain programs, whether it's Title I, Title II, Title IX, etc."
As Arkansas governor, Huckabee reduced regulations on homeschooling and appointed a homeschooling mother to the state board of education.
But he also consistently opposed school-choice programs that included private schools. When a commission he appointed recommended Arkansas give all parents a voucher equal to the per-pupil cost of educating a child in the local public schools, he instantly rejected the proposal. He also opposed President Bush's initial plan to give children in failing federally funded public schools a voucher redeemable at private or religious schools.
At a December press conference, the Concord Monitor reported, the president of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association "lauded Huckabee's opposition to school vouchers" and announced that the state union was endorsing him.
Huckabee told me that while he opposed vouchers in Arkansas and federal mandates for vouchers, he supports states and local school districts that implement them. "What I don't want to do is to have the federal government coming down and telling all 50 states here is how you are going to fund education, here is what vouchers are going to look like," he said. "Because in some states, for example mine, it would be very problematic to create a statewide voucher system when most of our schools are rural, they're small, they are miles from another school, the economies of scale simply wouldn't necessarily make it that easy to implement a widespread voucher system. But if local districts wished to do it, if states wish to do it, I think that's fine. It goes back to the basic concept that this is a state's decision."
Conservatives, I suspect, will find some of Huckabee's reservations about vouchers more persuasive than others. He cites a compelling argument from Christian school administrators, for example, who told him they fear that "once you take government money, you take government control." He once told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on the other hand, that vouchers should be off the table in Arkansas until "the public schools are up to snuff."
In his interview with me, however, Huckabee did offer an alternative route to school choice for parents who don't want to send their children to public schools. "I think that we ought to have tax credits for a family whose decision is to put their children in an alternative environment. And that is something that I would support," he said. "It's an empowering method to families."