- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 1999

As Alabama Gov. George Wallace once did, Vice President Al Gore now stands in the schoolhouse doorway keeping aspiring students from going through. But whereas Wallace made his stand in 1963 in an effort to prevent black students from entering the best college in their state, Mr. Gore has positioned himself to lock mostly black children and other minorities in the worst primary and secondary schools in the nation.

With his relentless opposition to school vouchers, which he offered in the most recent Democratic presidential debates, Mr. Gore demonstrated how determined he is to condemn millions of minority students, despite the pleas of their parents, to permanent second-class instruction. That's the almost certain outcome given the vastly inferior education they will receive in business-as-usual government school systems. Meanwhile, the teachers' unions, which have exercised monopolistic control over inner-city school systems and are among the most powerful interest groups within the Democratic Party, are ecstatic.

One would be hard-pressed to identify a more glaring, more consequential problem in this country than the utter failure of government education in America's largest cities. Nowhere is this worsening problem more evident than in the nation's capital, where Vice President Al Gore has lived most of his life, including the past 23 years. The failure of inner-city urban school systems has been a long-festering, seemingly intractable problem whose solution has proved to be impervious to more than a decade and a half of "reform." Had the problem merely been financial, it would have been solved a long time ago. Indeed, whether it is Newark, N.J., or the District of Columbia, many of the nation's worst performing students are being warehoused as opposed to being educated in school districts that spend far more per pupil than the national average.

In last week's debate, Mr. Gore attacked his opponent, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, for having supported experimental voucher programs. "I personally always opposed the vouchers," bragged Mr. Gore, who himself attended private, elite schools and who exercised choice by sending his children to private, elite schools. "That's been a big disagreement for 18 years between Senator Bradley and myself." On Sunday, Mr. Bradley said he favored continuing the experimental voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland, though he would oppose initiating others. On the other hand, Mr. Bradley did say, "[I]f those experiments demonstrated that the quality of public education was improved because of the competition [from vouchers], I think it would be very difficult to turn your back on that evidence."

Then Mr. Bradley asked Mr. Gore how he would react to favorable evidence from voucher experiments. Typically, Mr. Gore dissembled, incoherently asserting, "I favor more choice for parents to send their children to whatever school they want to send them to." Favoring more choice while taxing poor families out of the means to choose provides no choice at all. "But the reason I oppose vouchers," the vice president continued, "is because even if you say it's not going to come from public school budgets, it does."

He's wrong. On May 20, 1998, President Clinton vetoed a bill for a multiyear program that would have provided vouchers of up to $3,200 per year for 2,000 low-income District children to attend the private or public school of their choice. The experimental plan would not have reduced the District public school budget by a cent. What the Clinton-Gore administration feared was that the experiment would have worked, not that it would have deprived the District school system of any funding.

Predictably, Mr. Gore has favored throwing more money at the problem. And he has offered a long list of costly "reforms" that conspicuously exclude any semblance of real competition or any hope for current students for whom the government school experience has been a nightmare. Ever since the "Nation at Risk" report was released in 1983, the nation's public schools have been in the throes of "reforms" which have failed to reverse the downward spiraling of urban school systems across the nation.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Gore's latest "reforms" will delight the teachers' unions. But what will he propose besides more of the same five years from now after those "reforms" have replicated the bad experience of the past 15 years? Meanwhile, important time for real reform and real choice will have been forfeited and many more lives will have been sacrifices.

Even George Wallace did not make a political career of standing in the schoolhouse doorway forever, as Mr. Gore seems determined to do, crushing the aspirations and blocking the opportunities that competition provides in every other aspect of American life.

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