News - Are school vouchers the way to go?

Yes. Give parents freedom to choose kids' schools and unleash the power of the market

Public education is failing. Stalemate has set in, with teachers unions and educational bureaucracies dug in against any reform that might break the cycle of failure.
Spending is up, but learning is down. Give us more money, the obstructionists say, and we will do better. But taxpayers have — and they haven't.
You can't expect the same people and processes that got us into this mess to get us out. Do failing companies keep the same leaders forever? Of course not.
Teachers unions and bureaucracies now have all the power. It is time to give parents the power of vouchers and school choice.
Give parents freedom to choose their kids' schools and you unleash the power of the market. Force schools to compete for students — and their tuition dollars — and you produce more of what everyone wants: well-educated children.
Long a pet cause of conservatives, school choice is now pushing the threshold of majority support, with 51 percent of Americans backing the idea in a 1999 survey.
And school choice is really taking off with minorities, who have historically endured some of our nation's worst schools. According to one poll, 70 percent of minority families now favor school choice.
It's no wonder. The gap between black and white students continues to widen, with the average black 17-year-old reading at the same level as the average white 13-year-old, according to latest federal statistics.
As the Black Alliance for Educational Options recently told the Associated Press, "Eight million black school-age children should have the means to leave bad public schools."
Here in Atlanta, former Mayor Andrew Young has endorsed school choice, telling the NAACP last year that "huge monopolies require competition to shake them loose." Poor people, he said, "really need some power against the public-education system."
And school choice is working. A recent Harvard study of three small-scale voucher programs found black students rose 6.3 percent in two years.
Politically, black support may put school choice over the top. While Democrats could painlessly oppose vouchers (and protect the status quo for teachers unions) when only GOP conservatives were pushing the idea, they won't enjoy the same luxury with a key Democratic constituency backing it as well.
For now, black Democrats who favor school choice remain in a tricky spot. When I phoned Mayor Young's office last week, he declined to discuss the issue during election week.
In the future, however, Young's party may find it increasingly difficult to dismiss an approach favored by a growing majority of African-Americans.

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