04/2003 The Friedman Report: Dad Crusades for Other People’s Children

Published April 1, 2003

Steve Schuck, a prominent real estate developer in Colorado, has been a fervent crusader for school choice for almost two decades … but neither he, nor his family, nor his associates stand to benefit directly from parental choice becoming more widespread in the Centennial State. His three children, Bill, Tom and Ann, are already grown–one is teaching in a public school, one is running the real estate business, and the third is a professional wild animal rehabilitator. Schuck’s five grandchildren are all in good schools chosen by their parents.

Schuck’s overall motivation to crusade for school choice grows from a synergy of common sense and compassion. The businessman in him sees school choice as sound public policy. The father in him sees the desperation of poor parents seeking a better education for their children. And the philanthropist in him believes he can make a difference.

Not only Colorado but the nation as a whole stands to benefit from school choice becoming a reality for all children, argues Schuck. His single-minded dedication to the issue began in 1986 when he ran for governor of Colorado on the Republican ticket.

“Milton and Rose [Friedman]’s brilliant idea for vouchers appealed to me 30 or 40 years ago, in a very left-brain sort of way,” Schuck explains. “But, when I ran for governor, my orientation quickly shifted from the pragmatic to the personal–to a very right-brain approach, if you will.

“As a candidate, I was meeting these extraordinary families whose worlds had been cruel and devoid of opportunity because of the institutional nature–as opposed to a child-centered approach–of the public schools available to them. It became my primary objective to fix this wrong. After all, not only were these people missing out on all the richness of the American dream, all of my constituents and all of America were missing out on the possible contributions they could make with the equal chance to succeed.”

Schuck lost the governor’s nomination by fewer than 3,000 votes, but his passion for school choice stuck with him. Since 1986, he has worked tirelessly to pass meaningful school choice legislation in his state. This year, there are good prospects for passage of a voucher bill, thanks to his efforts and those of other philanthropists.

Schuck and his wife fund a private scholarship program in Colorado Springs, which grants $2,500 private school vouchers and $500 public school and tutoring vouchers for low-income families. He also works closely with former Congressman Bob Schaffer of the Colorado Alliance for Reform in Education (CARE). CARE is a nonprofit group that publishes newsletters and organizes information sessions to communicate the need for school choice in Colorado, with outreach to Hispanic and African-American communities. Its companion organization, Parents Alliance for Choice in Education (PACE), gets more into the political forum with regard to promoting school choice.

Schuck’s reason for being politically involved even when he doesn’t have to be is summed up in the “give-back” philosophy he laid out in his corporate biography: “Everyone will benefit when executives bring their years of successful enterprise in the competitive marketplace to the processes by which we govern ourselves. When their talents are applied to societal challenges the results will be far more responsive and responsible from both the private and public sectors.”

He emphasizes he is neither pro-private school nor anti-public school. Every American is entitled to the chance of getting a good education, he says, no matter how that good education is achieved.

“I’m pro-GOOD education,” he explains. But as a businessman, what is maddening to him is that he knows a voucher program would cost less per-pupil than the public school model.

“Rather than grant people the $5,000 to $6,000 it takes to buy a good education, we choose to spend more and condemn many kids to a life of despair,” he says. “Now, where’s the sense in that?”

One might also ask, where’s the compassion?

Laura J. Swartley is communications director with the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her email address is [email protected].