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Real school choice: when the dollars follows the child

By | March 22nd, 2013

Could the argument for bold education reform become a key message that moves majorities?

In his March 15 speech at CPAC, the annual conservative confab, Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., offered a bottom-up approach to education reform as a path for conservatives hungry for electoral victories. He advocated education reform and school choice that places parents, not federal or state bureaucrats, in the driver’s seat when it comes to how and where their children can best learn and grow.

“…When it comes to education, let the Democrats extol the virtues of our hopelessly antiquated one-size-fits-all factory schools where the child follows the dollars,” he said. “Meanwhile, let us feature the success of child-centered education solutions that meet the needs of the digital age, education where the dollars follow the child.”

“We had a union leader in Louisiana who said that parents don’t have a clue when it comes to making choices for their children. That is the debate we need to be having as a country. I met with a group of moms the very next day who said, ‘Governor, we make choices for our children every day. We know the needs of our children better than the bureaucrats in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C.’ That is the debate we need to be having in this country today.”

Quoting former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Jindal said, “This is how we must win the argument,” then you can win elections. He then proposed an American government that divests itself of centralized power, returns it to states and localities, and thereby expands the ability of citizens to make decisions closest to home.

Also known as the principle of subsidiarity, this concept maintains that citizens should be able to make decisions at the level that is closest to the problem – in other words – bottom-up solutions.

Jindal was not just articulating a theory. As the National Review’s Patrick Brennan wrote last year, he’s championing bold reform proposals in Louisiana: extending school choice to all students in average or below-average performing public schools; creating tighter accountability for charter and private schools that participate in his scholarship program; and reforming a stagnant and moss-laden teacher tenure system.

Kate Obenshain, noted blogger, author, and a former chairwoman of the Republican Party of Virginia told us at CPAC that the broad appeal of the documentary “Waiting for Superman” is evidence that school choice is a winning argument for most parents, regardless of income, who just want the best for their children.

“Democrats and liberals who are pushing back against school choice are pushing back against American school children,” she said. “They’re denying them any hope for the future, particularly those who are most disadvantaged. Because, really, getting a quality education for some of those kids is their only hope … and their parents know it and desperately want that opportunity for them,” she said.

Kellyanne Conway, president and CEO of the Polling Company, said her data shows that, over the last five years, education has held its place behind jobs and the economy as the number 3 or 4 issue for most Americans, particularly among females and Hispanics…

“Education means first and foremost the ability and the right of the parents to have a say in where their children go to school and what is taught there. And that is the essence of school choice. That nugget is incredibly popular to people across the country, particularly parents,” Conway noted.

Moreover, the RNC’s new Growth and Opportunity Project report (the so-called “autopsy” review of the 2012 elections) released on March 18, echoed Conway’s point, recommending school choice as a key policy (p. 15) that garners “high levels of support in Hispanic communities.”

“Perhaps no policy demonstrates the depth of our Party’s commitment to all Americans as strongly as school choice — our promise of “equal opportunity in education” to all children regardless of color, class or origin.”

If Jindal, Obenshain and Conway’s analysis is embraced by conservative activists and those who support the RNC’s issue-driven outreach to Hispanics, school choice could become the cornerstone argument attracting women and Hispanics to new center-right majorities.

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