- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Opponents of school choice will face a new obstacle the next time they try to prevent inner city children living in poverty from getting a good education the Democrats. With Bill Clinton and Al Gore out of the White House, Democrats are finally speaking out to help those their presidential campaign ignored. From AFL-CIO member Kenneth L. Johnson of Milwaukee Public Schools to the Rev. Floyd Flake of New York, these activists are fighting for the notion that public funds should allow parents and children to choose what public or private school they attend, and they are encouraging their party members to do the same.

"School choice belongs in the discussion of the [Democratic] Party," Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist said at the National Press Club recently. "I was a delegate and it wasn't even an issue at the convention."

Thus far, the Democratic platform has held that the only alternative to failing public schools is more federal money, more teachers and more buildings. "What happens to the children while they're waiting on new buildings and 100,000 teachers?" Rep. Dwight Evans, Democrat and chairman of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, asked at the press briefing. Good question. There seems to be a contradiction between the public and private lives of leaders who speak about education, he added, noting that former Vice President Gore had said that if he were a parent of a child in a failing public school, he too would be for school choice. (Having sent his own children to expensive private schools, Mr. Gore might well be considered a shining example of school choice in the higher income brackets as well.)

"We have a choice system that is dividing children by incomes," Mr. Norquist said at the press conference, sponsored by the Black Alliance for Education Options (BAEO). "It separates the poor from the wealthy, the African American from the white." In cities like Milwaukee, where more than 9,000 students below the poverty level use publicly funded vouchers to attend public or private schools, choice has not meant closing a single public school.

Even John Witte, the University of Wisconsin professor whose research has been used by the National Education Association to show that school choice doesn't increase poor students' performance, now supports the movement. In his book, "The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America's First Voucher Program," he now says that school choice is "useful tool to aid low-income families."

"I don't buy the argument that black inner city parents don't love their children as much as white suburban parents," Kaleem Caire, the National Director for BAEO said. Democratic and Republican leaders don't buy it either. If the teachers unions would open their eyes, they would come to the same conclusion.

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