- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

No wonder the California Teachers Association was howling. Ray Haynes actually wanted them to practice what they preach.
Mr. Haynes, a Republican state senator from California, recently introduced legislation in Sacramento that would have required public school teachers to send their children to public schools. Teachers cried out in opposition from the Redwood forests of Northern California to the Mexican border.
"People," said teachers union spokesman Mike Myslinski, "have the right to put their children in ."
Teachers union officials for school choice? Before Mr. Haynes bill, that group could have met comfortably in a phone booth. Just last fall, that same union led the fight ultimately successful against Californias Proposition 38, an initiative to offer parents private-school vouchers. A dollar for vouchers, the union argued, moved the public school system a dollar closer to starvation and further from excellence.
So why did Mr. Haynes legislation strike a nerve? As it turns out, one-third of Californias teachers send their kids to private schools, a teachers union study shows.
But theyre not the only school-choice hypocrites around. Federal lawmakers also have opted out of public schools in significant numbers. A Heritage Foundation survey last year found that, among respondents with school-aged children, 40 percent in the House of Representatives and 49 percent in the Senate send or have sent at least one child to private school. Never mind that each attempt to pass a bill to give the rest of Americas parents this same opportunity faces staunch opposition from many of these same lawmakers.
Now, if a third of the teachers and nearly half the members of Congress pull their children out of public education, what does that tell us about it? It tells us that those who know most about public education in this country understand the value of choice. But it doesnt tell us why choice shouldnt extend to all families.
It also doesnt tell us whats wrong with programs, such as Floridas A+ Plan, in which students at schools that fail for three straight years become eligible for vouchers. Or the privately funded programs in Cleveland, New York and D.C., which, a Harvard University study has shown, produce far more achievement than the public school system.
Teachers may view school choice as a threat to their jobs, but what about politicians? Embracing choice could save jobs for some of them. School choice enjoys support across the political spectrum because study after study shows choice and voucher programs work. Black voters whose children often get stuck in the nations worst public schools are more likely than whites to support vouchers, according to a poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a non-profit organization specializing in minority issues.
What the unions refuse to understand is that school choice helps public schools. Competition spurs improvement. And the voucher option does not take the best and brightest from the public schools. According to the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, students who are successful in one school tend to stay there, and those in trouble low-performing students in need of a change tend to look elsewhere.
Its time for the teachers unions to stop denying poor children who attend poor schools the same opportunity their members children enjoy. Its not a question of radical groups getting control of government money or a church-state argument. Choice advocates favor more scrutiny, more testing, more accountability.
Its not a question of money, either. Voucher amounts typically are for less than the per-student amount spent by the local public school district, and waiting lines for current voucher programs suggest parents consider the amount sufficient. Besides, the head of the National Education Association, the nations largest teachers union, says his group wont support voucher programs, even if per-pupil outlays were tripled and directed only to inner cities with failing schools.
So if its not about the money and its not about choice, whats it about? Whatever it is, it cannot be as important as ensuring that every child gets the best education possible.

Jennifer Garrett is a domestic policy researcher for the Heritage Foundation.


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