- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2013

MANCHESTER, N.H. — A Republican Party still reeling from the November elections is hoping that advocating for school choice can help the GOP recapture moderate voters, arguing that the issue provides a natural link between their limited-government philosophy and the average voter’s desire for good local schools.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican speaking to grass-roots activists in Concord last week, said the party can bolster its national image by making school choice — giving parents the ability and the funds to choose between competing public and private schools for their children — a more prominent part of its message.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal hit a similar note two weeks earlier, saying at a fundraiser in Manchester that the issue is a political winner because it saves money and produces better results.

The national push echoes what Republican governors have been trying to do at the state level for the past decade.

In New Hampshire, the Republican-led legislature last year muscled through a tax credit to help low-income families that home-school their children or send them to private schools.

“I think there is a good momentum with school choice,” said former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, a Republican. “It really comes down to the fact that this breaks the government school monopoly, which is killing us. I think all the candidates ought to be talking about that because the education system is failing.”

School choice programs take many forms. Some Republican governors have pushed for vouchers or scholarships that allow students to afford private schools. Others have offered tax deductions or credits, or promoted home schooling or charter schools.

Mr. Jindal’s home state made vouchers a major part of the school reform package in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and eventually expanded the program statewide.

But the program was set back at least temporarily this month when the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down the funding mechanism that Mr. Jindal tapped for the state’s private-school tuition vouchers. The ruling said it violated the state’s constitution because the money was earmarked for public education.

Court challenges to funding

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are leading a court challenge against New Hampshire’s scholarship program, arguing that the state constitution bars taxpayer money from being diverted to fund private religious schools.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney supported school choice, but the issue never became a focal point of his campaign last year. Some strategists said he missed a chance to use a message that was easy to articulate.

“He truly believed that the economy would trump all,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “The problem is that the economy is a dry subject and most people don’t understand how it works. As such, Romney would have been better served and likely more effective to hammer home additional items like school choice, in terms of broadening his voter base rather than just sending Ann Romney up there to say: ‘I love you, women!’”

Polls strongly suggest that school choice is a popular issue with voters.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released a survey this month that found that 66 percent of mothers with school-age children support vouchers and 69 percent support tax-credit scholarships to be able to choose their children’s schools.

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