Thursday, April 19, 2012

Strong Democratic Support for School Choice

You may hear that school choice is an issue with only supporters from a single political party or of a single ideology.  But as more school choice programs are created and expanded, more Democrats than ever before are voting in favor of these bills.  In fact, when Governor Bobby Jindal signed an historic statewide expansion of the Student Scholarships for Excellence in Education program yesterday, nearly half of the “yea” votes in the Senate were cast by Democrats and a dozen Democrats voted for the legislation in the House.

Hare are some of the most prominent Democrats who support school choice:

Cory Booker: America’s mayor is not only a hero when it comes to saving neighbors from fires, but he’s also a hero to Newark’s children.  A strong supporter of education reform, this Mayor has teamed up with Republican Governor Chris Christie to fight for the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a corporate scholarship program that, if enacted, would allow the state’s most disadvantaged students who attend the state’s poorest performing schools to have access to education alternatives. He'll also be a keynote speaker at our annual National Policy Summit on May 3-4, 2012!

Michelle Rhee: Former chancellor of D.C. public schools, Michelle Rhee is founder of StudentsFirst, which does just what it sounds like: puts students first.  Rhee is a strong supporter of charter schools and private school choice.  In fact, Rhee spoke in support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program while heading up D.C. public schools.  Speaking at the 2011 AFC Policy Summit, Rhee said:

“I do not believe that my job is to protect and defend and preserve a district that is doing a disservice to children. I believe that my job is to make sure that every single child in this city gets a great education. I am agnostic as to the delivery mechanism.”

Joel Klein: John Klein, former chancellor of New York City public schools and now, the executive vice president of News Corp., has been pushing strong education reforms in New York and nationally, with a particular strong note on educational options.  A strong supporter of public school choice and charter schools, Klein also supports giving parents the most options available, including through voucher programs.  Writing in the New York Daily News in March, Klein wrote:

“Public school choice, charter schools and vouchers like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships help to level the playing field for families and encourage educators to think creatively about how to best serve students and families. Coupled with necessary resources, well-prepared educators, and strong curricula, I believe that choice has the power to improve the overall quality of education we are providing to our students.”

Joe Lieberman: Senator Joe Lieberman has led the fight in the Senate to reauthorize and protect the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Working with Speaker of the House John Boehner, the duo has sent strong letters to President Obama and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling for protection of this vital program.  And Senator Lieberman isn’t the only Democrat to support school choice.  California Senator Feinstein is also a supporter of the program. And Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu recently praised the passage of the statewide expansion of the Louisiana voucher program.

Adrian Fenty: While mayor of Washington, D.C., Fenty not only brought Michelle Rhee to the city, he supported strong education reform, including the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  And he’s not the only former mayor to support the nation’s only federally-funded voucher program:  former Mayors Anthony Williams and Marion Barry—along with a majority of the D.C. Council—support the program.

Jason Fields: Representing Milwaukee, Representative Fields has become a champion in expanding and improving the nation’s longest-running voucher program in the nation, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.  In fact, when the program was expanded in 2011, Fields was instrumental in ensuring that families can remain in the program despite future income growth.  Called the “once in, always in” provision, this enables families to rest assured that their children can have the education they choose. He's also not afraid to stand up to both parties in support of doing what's best for kids.

Arlene Ackerman: With more than 40 years of experience in the public school system as a teacher, principal, and, most recently, a superintendent Philadelphia schools, Ackerman is an ardent supporter of public education and private school choice, calling it “the civil rights battle of our generation.” Ackerman says that we can best reform our education system by empowering low-income families via access to charter schools and school vouchers:

“Meaningful education reform must be forced upon the system from outside by giving parents of all income levels real choices about where their children go to school. That requires giving parents comprehensive school choice that includes an expanded charter-school system and a voucher program for low-income parents with children trapped in a failing school.”

Governor Brad Henry: As governor of Oklahoma, Henry signed legislation into law that was named after his daughter.  The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program serves 160 students with special needs in the 2011-12 school year.  This program is currently under attack in the courts. 

Gloria Romero: Former state senator from California and a leader of Democrats for Education Reform, Romero not only supports school choice, but she was a principal author of California’s Parent Trigger law, which puts the power of reforming education in the hands of parents. 

And these are just a few of the Democrats that support school choice.  In states across the nation, state senators, representatives, and superintendents are supporting enacting and expanding these programs.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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