In a rare liberal-conservative partnership, a broad coalition of progressive leaders from Evangelicals for Social Action joined prominent Republican conservative members of the Renewal Alliance at a September luncheon meeting to launch the “Public Scholarship Initiative,” calling for the immediate and widespread testing of tax-funded voucher programs. Such experimentation, the group argues, is a “matter of justice and equal opportunity” for the poorest of American families.
Congressman Floyd H. Flake (D-New York), who co-hosted the luncheon meeting with Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana), emphasized that supporters of the public scholarships were not out “to destroy public education, but to make public education more responsible and capable of producing young people who can be competitive in our society.”
The Rev. George D. McKinney, a leading bishop of the five million-member Churches of God in Christ, deplored the fact that minority students suffer disproportionately from substandard education and offered moving testimony of his experiences as an inner-city pastor.
“I’ve had to attend too many funerals for kids who dropped out,” he related, “or were pushed out of ineffective, overcrowded public schools, and were lost to gangs and drugs.”
Students falling through the cracks can’t wait ten years for education reform, he said. “Public scholarships would provide immediate relief.”
According to the Public Scholarships Initiative, all promising reforms deserve to be tested, but one proposed remedy in particular–public scholarships–“merits immediate widespread testing.” Public scholarships, says the group’s declaration, “offer unusual promise to provide real options and opportunities for the poor children abandoned by the current system.”
If experiments show that public scholarships hurt poor and minority children, continues the declaration, “we will lead the battle against educational vouchers. But if the tests do indicate that such scholarships help, no ideological straightjacket will prevent us from demanding their widespread adoption.”
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].