Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Education Over Politics

One’s political affiliation should not dictate their stance on educational options, including opportunity scholarship programs, says StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee in her new book, “Radical: Fighting to Put Students First."

Rhee, who previously served as the chancellor of the D.C. public school system, is a lifelong Democrat, something that she says squares perfectly with her support for vouchers. 

When Rhee arrived in D.C., she was faced with a dilemma.  Families had been enjoying the benefits of the city’s Opportunity Scholarship program, but this program went against what she thought she should believe as a Democrat. Rather than rejecting the program, Rhee decided to meet with families across the city and get a sense of their stories.  She soon discovered that countless families across the city depended on the scholarship program to deliver their children with a high quality education.

“After my listening tour of families, and hearing so many parents plead for an immediate solution to their desire for a quality education, I came out in favor of the voucher program,” Rhee recalls.  “People went nuts. Democrats chastised me for going against the party, but the most vocal detractors were my biggest supporters.”

Across the board, Democrats and Republicans tend to agree on the issue of providing tax dollars to private hospital institutions, Rhee says.  Schools should not be an exception.  

“Our approach should be no different for our children,” she says. “Their lives are at stake when we’re talking about the quality of education they are receiving.”

Rhee isn’t alone.  Doug Tuthill, President of Step Up For Students, is as a progressive Democrat and even served as president of two local teachers unions in Florida.

In a recent piece for the Huffington Post, Tuthill says the number of Democrats siding with educational choice is a growing trend. 

“Despite charges to the contrary, school choice is not a right-wing plot to privatize public education,” Tuthill writes.  “McGovern, Moynihan and Humphrey were not right-wing zealots, and neither are the increasing numbers of modern Democrats who want to give more options to underprivileged and struggling students.”

With bills under consideration in Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee to create voucher programs, bipartisan support is necessary!  With substantial learning gaps between students based on their family’s income, it is time our leaders put politics aside and take a stand for students.  Providing low-income families with educational options is a proven way to close the achievement gap and give all students a fair shot at a quality education and bright future.

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

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