(CNSNews.com) - Kevin Chavous, a Democrat and former D.C. councilman, said he believes in school choice, and he's a "great friend" of Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's nominee for Education Secretary, who also supports school choice.
"And, look, the only people who are against school choice, Tucker, are the ones that have it," Chavous told Fox News's Tucker Carlson Tuesday night.
Chavous said support for voucher programs is high among black and Hispanic voters, and he said the issue is one "that can unify America," even if the NAACP and the liberal teachers unions oppose it.
"What we need, and I think Betsy gets this, we need to depoliticize it, you know...and build this national consensus around learning that promotes what's best for children."
Chavous pointed to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a federal voucher program supported by congressional Republicans that has served 6,000 students. "And 90 percent of those kids graduate. Ninety percent of them go to college. They come from schools where over half the kids drop out. So, you know, that's an amazing turn around -- 6,000 lives that otherwise would have been changed if they hadn't gotten that opportunity.
"And we have seen this with our charter school movement. Over almost half the kids in D.C. public...schools are in charter schools," which are tuition-free public schools that are run by nonprofits.
As CNSNews.com has reported, when President Barack Obama came to office in 2009, he tried to defund the Opportunity Scholarship Program, but he finally settled on a plan that would allow then-current recipients of the vouchers to continue, but would not allow new people into the program. When Republicans took back control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, they renewed the program and extended it through 2016.
Chavous said one of "really exciting" things about Betsy DeVos, with whom he has worked, is that she is a "consensus builder."
"She is going to be a star in this cabinet because she believes reaching across the aisle and working with Democrats and building consensus around collaborative ideas that help kids. And that's the problem, when people try to ram school choice or ram these proposals, similar to Common Core, down the throat of people who are not ready for it, and that flies in the face of Betsy's stance. That's going to make a big difference.
"People want school choice, but you have to have them understand how it works, have them have peer-to-peer conversations and then give examples, lift up the models that work."
Chavous rejected the argument that taking children out of bad public schools will drain funding and "destroy" those schools, as some of DeVos's critics have argued.
"It's absolutely not the case," he said. "What we want to do is make our public schools work for our kids. I envision America where all kids have equal access to quality education. And the best way to do that is the short-term remedy of getting kids in good schools today, particularly those who come from bad schools.
"And also it helps lift all boats, because as we've seen in D.C. and Florida and other places, when the public schools see that there is a real threat to their monopolistic existence, they respond."
Chavous pointed to Education Department data showing that 48 percent of public schools are either failing or underperforming. "We need to shake things up and there is no better way to do that than through school choice."
For the current school year, individual scholarship awards for qualifying D.C. students in the voucher program are up to $12,679 for high school and up to $8,452 for elementary and middle school. Opportunity Scholarships may be used at any of the schools participating in the program and can be used to pay for tuition, uniforms, books, and other school-related fees.