By Phil Fraietta
Throughout my lifetime, I have often times found that those of the left and even in the center tend to take the position that conservatives are not interested in helping the poor. While I still believe this a complete falsity, I must say that over the past decade it has become clear to me why many people feel this way. We, as right-wingers, need to stop using the populist rhetoric of “job creation,” and instead need to offer clear but conservative solutions to poverty. Conservative reforms to education would certainly be a good place to start. One such reform that I believe should become a staple of the conservative movement is school choice.
School choice may in fact be the Civil Rights issue of our day. The late great economist Milton Friedman first proposed the idea in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, the “conservative” No Child Left Behind Act failed to include school choice because the far-left, in particular Senator Ted Kennedy, fought against it.
The idea of school choice is simple in principle but genius in application. School choice simply refers to allowing parents to use tax vouchers in order to opt out of sending their children to public school and instead sending them to a private school of their choice. Right now, the tax system forces parents who choose to use private schools for their children, to still pay public school taxes. In my opinion, this is simply wrong. Why should one pay for a service they do not use? Why not allow one to use that same tax money to send their child to a private school?
School choice would not only better the public schooling system by forcing it into even stiffer competition with the private school system, it would serve as a pathway to the American Dream for many impoverished Americans. Take conditions such as those on Fordham Road right outside this campus for example. A family living in conditions like these is forced to send their children to run-down public schools with poor quality teachers and almost no path to advancement. Under school choice, this same family would be able to use a tax voucher and send their child to Fordham Prep. Clearly a student at Fordham Prep has a greater chance to succeed than a student using the Bronx Public School system. Not coincidentally, 73% of Hispanic Americans and 82% of African-Americans (both of which suffer higher poverty rates) support school choice according to the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance.
In fact, most people of all demographics support school choice (63% according to The Center for Education Reform) and see it as a great way to help the poor. So then why is it that school choice has still not be installed? The far-left opposes it.
They argue that school choice is unconstitutional in that it violates “separation of church and state” by sending tax dollars to religious schools. But those of us who are actually familiar with the Constitution know that “separation of church and state” does not appear and that all the Constitution does is prohibit the State from establishing a national religion. The far-left is also under extreme pressure from the teacher’s union to oppose school choice. Clearly, if public schools were forced into stiff competition with private schools, sub-par teachers would have a difficult time keeping their jobs. But, I for one, would rather see our children being educated by the best teachers we have to offer, rather than making sure sub-par teachers still have work.
School choice is an issue we as conservatives can all support. It is vital for us to push for school choice as the number one means to help the poor. The American Dream is beautiful, but the government monopoly over education has started to break it. School choice is a conservative way to reform education and make the American Dream attainable for everyone once again.