Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
School Choice & Charters

Voucher Advocates Fret Over Bush Stance

By Darcia Harris Bowman — February 14, 2001 3 min read

Advocates for school choice who gathered just blocks from the White House last week expressed their growing frustration with a Republican White House that appears to be wavering in its support for their cause.

Originally organized by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis and Children First America, of Bentonville, Ariz., to promote the groups’ new book of essays on school choice, the Feb. 7 conference quickly became a forum for venting disappointment with President Bush’s apparent willingness to jettison vouchers from his education agenda.

“School choice ought to be part of public education, and I believe we ought not to be apologetic about that,” said Arizona schools Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, a Republican and a staunch supporter of school choice. Ms. Keegan had been seen as a contender for the education secretary’s post that went to Houston schools chief Rod Paige.

Clint Bolick

Clint Bolick, the vice president of the Institute for Justice, a legal-advocacy organization that defends voucher programs against court challenges, said that “2000 was a good year for school choice ... even though many people seem to be in retreat, even some of those who are supposed to be leading us.”

Poking fun at the Bush administration’s refusal to use the term “voucher” to describe the president’s proposal to allow students in persistently failing Title I schools to use government money to attend private schools, Robert Holland, a fellow at the Lexington Institute, told conference attendees: “It’s nice to be in the company of people for whom the use of the word ‘voucher’ isn’t a cause for dread and alarm.” (“Republicans Prefer To Back Vouchers by Any Other Name,” Jan. 31, 2001.)

“Here we don’t want to play games, because we know a voucher is a beautiful thing if it allows a child to ... attend a safe school, a good school,” said Mr. Holland, whose Arlington, Va., think tank promotes school choice. “Vouchers are not evil—they’ve just been demonized by people who have a vested interest in keeping the system the way it is.”

Even Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., got in on the finger-wagging.

“When we’re told that school choice is some kind of deal-breaker, we need to remind people—perhaps even some in the administration—who won this election and why,” Sen. Kyl said.

‘Time Is Ripe’

Regardless of whether the White House stands firm on vouchers, the advocates gathered at the National Press Club here said they would continue to press for change. Mr. Bolick, in particular, expressed confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court would finally weigh in on the issue.

In December, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit declared the 5-year-old voucher program in Cleveland unconstitutional.

The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, established by the Ohio legislature, provides some 4,000 low-income students with vouchers of up to $2,250 to help pay tuition at private schools. The federal appellate panel voted 2-1 to uphold a lower court’s ruling a year earlier that the program violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment because the vast majority of the participating private schools are religious.

The Ohio attorney general, backed by the Institute for Justice and other organizations, has filed a petition for a rehearing by the full appellate court. If the court denies that request, or rules against the program, Mr. Bolick predicted that the Supreme Court would hear the case.

And when that happens, “I believe we will prevail,” he said.

In the meantime, the school choice proponents pledged their continued support for charter schools, tax- credit programs for private school tuition, publicly financed voucher programs, and the scores of privately supported voucher initiatives.

Virginia Walden, the executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, said her personal experience with a privately financed voucher program here convinced her that school choice programs can make a difference for urban parents struggling to provide their children with a good education.

“I am not someone who ever imagined myself standing up in front of a room like this being an advocate for anything other than the three children living in my house,” Ms. Walden said. “But I had one child who was failing in a public school, and he was in trouble with the police, and I knew I had to do something.”

But, thanks to a voucher, Ms. Walden was able to send her son to a private school that she said helped him turn his life around.

“We like the president’s education plan, but we believe the voucher component is very weak,” Ms. Walden said. “We’re looking at organizing parents because we want a strong voucher program ... and the time is ripe for going to Capitol Hill.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Voucher Advocates Fret Over Bush Stance

Events

Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Assistant Director of Technical Solutions
Working from home
EdGems Math LLC

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Letter to the Editor Are NOLA Charters a Mixed Bag?
To the Editor:
The opinion essay by Douglas N. Harris about how New Orleans’ education reforms post-Katrina are relevant to the COVID-19 era (“As Schools Recover After COVID-19, Look to New Orleans,” Sept. 30, 2020) highlights some basic improvements in the NOLA system but downplays the most significant aspects of those changes: the impact on people of color.
1 min read
School Choice & Charters Home Schooling Is Way Up With COVID-19. Will It Last?
The shift could have lasting effects on both public schools and the home-schooling movement.
10Homeschool IMG
RyanJLane/E+
School Choice & Charters Opinion Challenging 3 Common Critiques of School Choice
A new volume from Corey DeAngelis and Neal McCluskey challenges some of the familiar but suspect assertions that pepper public debates about school choice.
3 min read
School Choice & Charters Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read