Don’t forget the old admonition that things are never as bad as they seem after a defeat, as troubling times often beget great innovation. Those on the Left would be wise to also remember that things are never as good as they seem. A case on point is the issue of school choice.
On the issue of school choice free market messaging has been exceedingly potent. The winning message is first, every child deserves the very best education possible, meaning we should allow a child's family choice when it comes to which school they will attend regardless of economic standing, ethnicity, or zip code. Second, innovation and reform to make our children’s' education better should be celebrated rather than shuttered. This simple message overwhelmingly resonates across party lines, across demographic groups and emotionally reverberates throughout our country, because it eloquently expresses a basic notion of fairness that seeks to protect those who are our most precious asset - our children.
Over the past year Americans for Prosperity has joined a broad coalition to support major education reforms. One of the most successful state programs is in Louisiana. According to Educate Now, 84 percent of New Orleans public school students are now in charter schools. These charter schools overwhelming help poor, minority, and low-performing students succeed where traditional public schools have failed. By placing an emphasis on students, the state, and specifically Governor Jindal, has demonstrated true political courage and sound common sense by not simply throwing additional dollars at failing public schools but by reshaping the focus away from unions and back to students.
Indiana’s program is also growing at an impressive rate with over 50 public charter schools. The Indiana legislature admits what many states are unable to admit: that public schools do not meet the needs of every student. Indianapolis Public Schools Corp established several schools around the city, each of which focuses on a single subject, such as reading and math, to help students improve or further excel in the subject. These educational reforms are providing students greater opportunities to achieve instead of forcing the one-size-fits-all federal approach.
I have no doubt that in the coming years, students of charter schools will be leading industries throughout our country.
While Georgia is a newer state to enact school choice, their program is on its way to dramatic success. The state offers two main programs for special-needs vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. In 2010, the Center for Education Reform estimated 58,000 students were enrolled in one of Georgia’s 109 public schools. Georgia’s scholarships helped over two thousand students in 2009 alone, and the program continues to grow annually.
In New York City’s Success Academy schools 96% of Success Academy Students passed the math section, outperforming the city’s public schools by 31%, and an unbelievable 100% passed the science section, with 91% earning an Advanced Rating. In Washington, D.C. 82% of Opportunity Scholarship students graduated high school, compared to 70% of those not selected for the program.
With so many compelling success stories, it’s difficult for opponents to argue with the merits of school choice. Still, government employee union lobbies fight this change every step of the way. Just last year the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which has at least a 39 percent drop-out rate and only 6 of 100 CTU students earn a bachelor’s degree, demanded additional perks for teachers at failing schools. This organization is so out-of-touch, their teachers were focused on haggling about the percentage of pay increases while vast numbers of their students drop out of utterly failing public schools. Such tone deafness is particularly inappropriate with some 12 million Americans looking for work.
School choice isn’t a theoretical free market argument. It is based on decades of performance that show significant results for our nation's children. Hundreds of studies, conducted over the past two decades, have traced charter schools’ performance. The overwhelming majority of them conclude that charter schools on average perform just significantly better than traditional public schools at lower costs and while giving parents greater choices that meet the unique needs and aspirations of individual children. The latest and largest review of these studies, found that two-thirds of these studies conducted after 2001 concluded charter schools help more students achieve higher results.
Even very left-of-center states like California and New York have some of the strongest charter school laws in the nation, hosting hundreds of these innovative schools. Clearly the message of school choice rises above the political fray, crosses boundaries and is in the mainstream of education reform.
Conservatives should look to the victories of the school choice message as a blueprint for the upcoming battles of government overspending. Our side would be wise to use aspirational, personal, compelling stories bonded with undisputable facts to make our case to the American people.