Capitol Hill Conference Hails School Choice

Published January 1, 2000

It has been 20 years since Tom Tancredo, then a Colorado state legislator, introduced his first voucher legislation in Denver.

His proposal never even make it out of the education committee that he himself chaired . . . but Tancredo didn’t give up.

Today, Tancredo is promoting school choice in the nation’s capital as a member of the U.S. House Education Committee.

“When there is talk of school choice in the halls of Congress, the feeling is one of imminent victory,” Representative Tancredo told a recent Lexington Institute Capitol Hill conference.

The October 26 conference, “The Teacher Unions: How School Choice is Breaking Their Monopoly,” featured education policy leaders from around the country, sharing practical advice and information from the field. During the conference, Lexington CEO Merrick Carey presented Dr. Myron Lieberman with a leadership award in recognition of his preeminent scholarship on the teacher unions and his leadership in support of market-based education reform.

Tancredo cited Florida’s approval of the nation’s first statewide voucher program as an example of recent progress towards parental freedom in education, together with the tuition tax credit programs now in place in Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

But the strongest evidence of the demand for school choice was the enthusiastic reception of eligible families to the private scholarships offered by the Children’s Scholarship Fund, according to CEO Vice President Zack Dawes. These private vouchers, he said, have established demonstration models for public officials considering reform.

“Choice is now at the forefront . . . and parental satisfaction rates are soaring,” said Dawes.

Also speaking at the Lexington conference, Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler noted that the twelfth-grade graduation rate from his city’s public schools has remained unchanged at 40 percent since the state of New Jersey took control of those schools 10 years ago. Spending, however, has changed, increasing dramatically–to about $9,000 per student.

“If inner-city families had control of $9,000, couldn’t they get a good education for their children?” the Mayor asked.

Tancredo explained that it is possible to spend less and still get the job done. When he was the Department of Education’s Regional Representative in Colorado, he pointed out, he radically downsized his own staff.

Congressman Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the House Education Committee, expressed his dismay over how valuable dollars and precious energies were being drained from the bottom line of improving America’s schools by an emphasis on process over substance. This was the case with the myriad federal education programs included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Doug Rogers, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, made it clear that there are alternatives for teachers other than representation by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers. Boasting over 94,000 members, ATPE is the largest educator association in Texas. Independent teacher unions now have more members than the NEA or AFT in three states.

“It can be done,” declared Rogers.

Kansas State Representative Kay O’Connor described her work with Parents in Control, a nonprofit organization promoting school choice. She emphasized the value of providing information to parents at the grassroots level.

Other speakers at the conference included Lawrence Reed, president of Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy; Evergreen Freedom Foundation President Bob Williams from Washington state; and Michelle Easton, president of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute in Washington, DC.

Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute. He can be reached by email at [email protected].