The great Jack Kemp used to say about politicians that “voters don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Congressional conservatives say they care about the poor and minorities, but do they really?
We have a test case in front of us right now over whether congressional leadership will reauthorize and then hopefully expand the Washington, D.C., school voucher program. Obama is against the program, though its $25 million budget is less than 0.1 percent of federal education spending.
The Opportunity Scholarship Program was created in 2004 and was the handiwork of John Boehner and President George W. Bush. The results have been uniformly positive for these families.
But something unforgivable happened at the end of last year. House leadership admits it “inadvertently” left out the program of the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that passed late last year. Leadership forgot to fund the voucher program for poor black and Hispanic parents because apparently it was too busy funding the Export-Import Bank to help Boeing.
So, amazingly, about the only domestic program that got eliminated was the one that matters the most. Message: Congressional conservatives don’t care about these families any more than the liberals do—which is very little.
The very first order of business for this Congress should be to immediately reauthorize the D.C. school voucher program. Do it now. Hold a rally in front of the Capitol with the thousands of minority parents and kids who depend on these vouchers. Stand with them. Fight with them loudly and proudly.
A first-rate education for the nation’s poor children is a righteous fight and, as Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, puts it, “the civil liberties issue of our time.”
What is for sure is that liberals will never stand with these parents. They can’t, because the teachers unions won’t let them, and the political contributions would dry up. So union brass and liberal leaders oppose programs that take control from Big Labor and instead empower parents.
It’s all about power and money for the education blob. The opposition has nothing to do with what’s right for the kids. Nothing exposes the spectacular hypocrisy of liberals more than their brick-wall opposition to education voucher programs.
Meanwhile, their opposition in Congress refuse to call them out on this. Why?
The D.C. voucher program has helped thousands of very low-income and mostly black kids opt out of the often dismal public D.C. schools and opt into high-performing private and Catholic schools.
A major assessment study funded by the Department of Education found that graduation rates for the students with vouchers are an estimated 12 percentage points higher than for those who didn’t get the vouchers. More of the kids go on to college—some to Harvard and Yale.
The odds are high that a large percentage of these kids from good schools but poor neighborhoods will be financially successful and rise into the middle class or higher. Is there a better way to reduce income inequality?
The most powerful evidence is to meet these kids, because the impressive results hit you right in the face. The parents almost universally describe the vouchers with words like a “godsend” and a “lifesaver for my children.”
Conservatives should sit down with Joseph Kelley, a single father with several kids who have received vouchers.
“The public schools in my neighborhood aren’t just extremely poor academically; they are physically unsafe,” he told me. “At our neighborhood school, there was cursing and shoving, with a total breakdown in any discipline. Total mayhem. I couldn’t expose my son to this environment, or I would have wound up hurting some of those bullying kids.”
How many politicians would send their kids to such schools?
I know one who doesn’t: President Barack Obama. The Obamas live in public housing in Washington, D.C., but they are rich, so they send their daughters to the very elite, expensive private school called Sidwell Friends. The president’s daughters sit next to some of the voucher kids. But Obama wants to kill the program, because apparently only rich people should get to go to the finest schools.
Rather than being shut down, this program should be expanded dramatically in D.C., and brought to cities with failing schools all over the country. The goal should be for every parent who wants a voucher to get one.
We spend more than $30 billion on the Department of Education every year, and Congress even gave the DOE a pay raise last year. DOE spending has had zero impact on test scores, as the graph shows.
This is the perfect political fight for these times. House Speaker Paul Ryan should announce tomorrow that there will be no budget this year without vouchers. If Obama wants to shut down the government to stop this from happening, let him.
What better way for congressional conservatives to show they believe that black lives matter?
Stephen Moore, who formerly wrote on the economy and public policy for The Wall Street Journal, is a distinguished visiting fellow for the Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.