Gary Johnson

As Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson Was an Early Advocate for School Choice

The Libertarian Party presidential nominee plugged his education record during a CNN Town Hall event.


Credit: CNN

Wednesday night's CNN Town Hall event with Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate, William Weld, was the first of its kind for a third party in US electoral history. Throughout most of the Presidential debates so far, education has gotten the short shrift, with a few notable exceptions. Wednesday's event delivered, however. 

When asked about his record as the former Governor of New Mexico, Johnson pointed to education as one of his legacies:

"Well, I maybe was more outspoken than any governor in the country regarding school choice," he said. "Really, I think that we should bring competition to public education. I would like to get the federal government out of education, allowing state dollars to be spent in those states as opposed to making a detour in Washington where you send money 13 cents to Washington and it come back 11 cents and then it come back with mandates." 

Johnson's record fighting to expand parental choice as a governor is pretty astounding. Frustrated with rising costs and stagnating scores, Johnson proposed what would have been the nation's first statewide school voucher program—and he did it all the way back in 1999.

Previously, vouchers only existed in individual cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland. Johnson's plan would have enrolled 100,000 students in its first year of operation. In the face of a majority Democratic legislature, Johnson fought for vouchers to the point of vetoing two budgets that didn't include them, almost taking New Mexico into a government shutdown in the process. Johnson ultimately buckled and signed a budget without the vouchers, but renewed the fight his next year in office.

Johnson doubled down the next year, introducing an even more sweeping voucher program that would give each eligible children $3,500 to put toward private school tuition. Democrats countered with a plan to throw an extra $90 million at New Mexico's public schools—without any vouchers. Once again, Johnson and New Mexico democrats nearly went into a shutdown over school choice.

Ultimately, Johnson was unsuccessful. There are still no private school choice programs in New Mexico to this day.

All the same, Johnson was an early high profile advocate for school choice at a time when doing so was a lot more difficult politically. For people who care about education reform, that's something to keep an eye on this 2016 race.

Watch ReasonTV's highlight reel from Johnson's Town Hall event: