When it comes to education policy, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) is adamantly pro-choice. In an interview at the National School Choice Week conference in Houston, the first-term senator spoke with Reason TV's Todd Krainin about failing schools, helping kids, and why both Democrats and Republicans are blowing it on education reform (click here for the video, or see it below).
Q: Where is the school choice movement now?
A: One of the great strengths of the movement is that it's no longer theoretical. We are seeing school choice programs bloom all over the country, seeing actual evidence that school choice works, that it expands the educational opportunities for kids who are struggling. The data are now quite compelling that the kids who exercise options to go to different educational opportunities-their outcomes are better, their math scores are better, their reading scores are better, their college entrance is better. But fantastically, the public schools are being strengthened by public choice as well.
Q: We look at places like Houston as a great success story for choice, but really we're only talking about 20 percent of kids who have that kind of opportunity.
A: There is a political failure here. Democrats, a great many of them, are almost unalterably opposed to school choice programs because the teachers unions are opposed to them. The teachers unions are such an important political army for the Democratic Party that very few Democratic politicians have the courage to embrace choice if it means risking the wrath of the teachers unions. On the Republican side, unfortunately, there's far too much apathy. There are far too many Republicans representing suburban districts where, frankly, the education systems are pretty good, where their attitude is: "Gosh, what's all the fuss about? The kids in my district have great educational opportunities." So you have a dynamic where [there are] two parties, neither one of which is stepping up in a big way to champion choice.
Q: I've heard a lot about charters, but I hear very little about vouchers. What's happening?
A: I am a tremendous fan, when it comes to school choice, of all of the above: of charters, of tax credits, and of scholarships and vouchers. I think we need to do everything we can to empower low-income kids.
Q: Critics would say it's not the schools that are failing; it's the fact that we have so much poverty in America. They say all the tinkering with school choice isn't going to make much difference.
A: But the evidence has completely disproven that. We've seen-in school choice programs that have gone into incredibly low-income neighborhoods, incredibly low-income areas-kids that in other schools are left with no hope and opportunity who are succeeding and thriving.
Q: It's no secret that the Republicans have a little bit of a minority problem. What's the best, most effective way to reach out to minority voters? Do you think school choice is an option for Republicans?
A: If Republicans want to do better among minority voters, among Hispanic voters, among African-American voters, we need to champion opportunity every minute of every day. And there is no more transformative policy than school choice. Republicans should be going into minority neighborhoods and saying, "We are fighting for your children, to give your kids a better hope, a better opportunity, because every one of your kids deserves a fair shot at the American dream." And you know what? I'd be thrilled if Democrats came into those districts and did the exact same thing.