- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

A large number of lawmakers who practice school choice by sending their children to private schools consistently preach and vote against legislation that would enable poor parents to do the same, a new survey conducted by the Heritage Foundation has found.
Last year, 47 percent of House members and 51 percent of senators sent at least one of their children to a private school, the survey found. Those numbers are up from 40 percent and 49 percent, respectively, according to a similar survey conducted by the foundation in 2000.
Specifically, 69 of 273 House members who last year voted against legislation allowing children in low-performing and dangerous schools to attend a school of choice send or have sent their children to private schools last year, the survey shows. The legislation was defeated 273-155.
Also, 13 of 58 senators who voted against an amendment that would fund a low-income school choice demonstration program send or have sent their children to private schools. The amendment was defeated 58-41.
"The failure to approve measures to enable all children to benefit from the best school environment possible makes less and less political sense," said Jennifer Garrett, an education researcher for the Heritage Foundation. "Parents across all racial and socioeconomic groups support school choice. It's time Congress catches up and quits leaving children behind."
The survey, taken during the winter of 2001 and the spring of 2002, was conducted on an anonymous basis, which means the foundation agreed not to disclose the names of the lawmakers who responded to the survey.
The results were released as the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the constitutionality of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, a school voucher program that since 1995 has enabled more than 4,000 low-income children to attend a school of their choice. The court is expected to make a ruling on that case within the next three weeks.
Other survey findings include:
43 percent of members of the House Ways and Means Committee and 32 percent of members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee who have children exercised private school choice last year.
50 percent of members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee who have children and 53 percent of those on the Senate Finance Committee who have children chose to send them to private school last year.
38 percent of House members from the congressional districts with the 10 largest U.S. cities who have children chose to send their children to private school.
35 percent of Congressional Black Caucus members and 33 percent of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus members sent their children to private school.
"The bottom line is that these lawmakers should preach what they practice," Miss Garrett said yesterday. "The problem is this elitist attitude that exists on Capitol Hill, where senators and Congress members are all in support of public schools, but then when it comes to their children, they decide that the public schools aren't good enough for them."
The survey results didn't surprise educators and education watchdog groups who argue the survey only underscores the long-existing problem of lawmakers losing touch with what their constituents want.
"These lawmakers are complete hypocrites," said Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation in Virginia. "This study just underscores the disconnect that exists between the political elite and the people they represent. It's always the people who are ahead of their government."
An estimated 5.2 million of the country's 52.5 million students attend private schools, according to the latest statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.
There is growing support among parents, particularly among minorities, for school vouchers, even though lawmakers continue to oppose measures that would help people send their children to a school of their choice, Miss Garrett wrote in the study.
A national poll conducted last year by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a leading black policy think tank, found that 60 percent of blacks support school vouchers, while 69 percent of black elected officials oppose them.
Overall, a nationwide poll conducted last year by Parents in Charge found that 82 percent of parents want to be in charge of their children's education and another 72 percent believed that competition resulting from choice would improve education.


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