School vouchers were again injected into the Democratic presidential primary Monday at Harlem's Apollo Theater. Time's Tamala Edwards noted that 60 percent of African Americans support vouchers and asked Al Gore why, as an opponent of vouchers, there wasn't a single public or charter school in DC good enough for young Al, who attends the Sidwell Friends, the alma matter of Chelsea Clinton. "Why should the parents here have to keep their kids in public schools because they don't have the financial resources that you do?" asked Edwards.
CNN's Jeff Greenfield revisited the issue, noting that everyone on the panel (indeed, everyone in the theater) had the means to exercise school choice. "When the schools fail our children, we don't wait for new legislation, we protect our kids' future by pulling them out of those public schools," said Greenfield. He also pointed out that the most strident opponents of vouchers are the two teachers unions, who happen to supply one in nine delegates to the Democratic National Convention. "The question is after 35 years and a hundred billion dollars in Title 1 money, with S.A.T. scores, that gap no narrower, why shouldn't these parents conclude that the Democratic Party's opposition to choice is an example of supporting a special interest rather than their interest?"
Gore, who in December dismissed vouchers as "tiny little down payment on tuition" on Meet the Press, didn't like having his family brought into the debate. "You can leave my [my children] out of this if you want to," sputtered Gore, before claiming that vouchers would be a "historic mistake by draining money away from public schools." Gore, you see, wants to bring "revolutionary improvements to our public schools, not gradual—gradual improvements."
This is bad news for children stuck in bad schools. Since most improvements develop gradually, by stalling on vouchers, which would gradually improve public schools by forcing administrators to concentrate on customers, Gore is serving the status quo. His revolutionary improvements are just more of the usual—throw $115 billion more at the education establishment.
That's enough to give each of the 6.6 million children attending America's urban schools a $17,415 voucher. That's some down payment.
- Rampaging Toward Choice: Why parents in Washington, D.C. are embracing vouchers and charter schools–and what that says about public schools, Reason, January 2000.
- Public school enrollment data, Council of the Great City Schools
- Joint Center Poll: Shows that more blacks than whites believe their local public schools are getting worse, according to the 1999 National Opinion Poll results on education.
- Transcript of the 2/21/00 debate between Al Gore and Bill Bradley.
- Al Gore's revolutionary plan to "save our schools."