Commentary: School Choice Choir Has Broad Range of Voices

Published July 1, 1999

One of the charges that opponents make against school choice is that it is a right_wing, far_right, and/or conservative conspiracy to destroy the public schools. Whether this view arises from ignorance or from a deliberate distortion of facts, it certainly is inaccurate. Here are some of the “conspirators.”

U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey

“I favor the creation of a tax system where parents would be able to receive a tax credit when their children attend approved private schools.”

From remarks made in 1968, quoted by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in Educational Choice: A Catalyst for School Reform, a Report of the Task Force on Education of the City Club of Chicago, August 1989.

U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

In the early 1970s, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D_New York) cosponsored a bipartisan bill that would have provided support for parental choice, with tax credits or tuition payments to private schools. It almost passed. Moynihan said the reason it lost was because opponents distrusted educational pluralism and supported the monopoly of the public school bureaucracies. Opponents hid those views, he contended, behind real or imagined constitutional questions.
Educational Choice, August 1989

“To my knowledge, ours is the only industrial democracy in the world that does not routinely provide aid to nonpublic schools as part of its educational system. This is a problem unique to the United States. That fact alone says something, I think.

“In the late 1960s, educational vouchers were generally regarded as a progressive proposal. All liberal faculty members would wish to be associated with it. . . . But within the space of a decade this proposal has somehow been transformed into a ‘bastion of white privilege and exclusivity.’

“I do not think that the prospect of change in this area is enhanced by the abandonment of pluralism and choice as liberal ideas and liberal values. If that happens it will present immense problems for a person such as myself who was deeply involved in this issue long before it was either conservative or liberal. And if it prevails only as a conservative cause, it will have been a great failure of American liberalism not to have seen the essentially liberal nature of this pluralist proposition.”

Quoted in “What the Congress Can Do When the Court Is Wrong,” Edward McGlynn Gaffney Jr., editor, Private Schools and the Public Good (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1981).

Columnist Clarence Page

“The more I hear about the voucher idea, the better I like it.

“The current public school monopoly is just another example of how we take away from poor people opportunities to make their own choices and help themselves escape from poverty.”
August 2, 1987

Public School Teachers

“A survey of 2,732 teachers by the National Center for Education Information shows . . . 53 percent say schools would be better if students could attend the school of their choice.”
USA TODAY, August 28, 1990

Wisconsin State Representative Annette “Polly” Williams

“Education is a people issue. It really doesn’t matter who’s in the White House, or the state house, or courthouse, or city hall. It doesn’t matter who controls all those houses. It matters who controls our house. Parents have got to be in control of their own houses and their own children. Parents make those decisions and then all those other houses respond and respect what parents want for their children.”

Twice chairman of the Wisconsin Jesse Jackson for President committee, Williams sponsored the state law creating the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Quoted in Educational Choice, a videotape produced by CEO America, San Antonio, Texas, 1992

Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White

“We’ve got to stop having a knee_jerk opposition to school vouchers and charter schools. . . . For all the African_American officials that have come out against vouchers, you will never find my name.”

Quoted in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 13, 1994

Civil Rights Activist Alveda King

“An ocean of choice lifts all boats. We need not rescue just a handful of children; we can save them all.”

King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., is head of King for America and part of a coalition of minority leaders and parents seeking to have Congress create a voucher program for 2,000 low_income students in Washington, DC. Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 1997

General Colin Powell

“I support using vouchers and seeing where it takes us. . . . [N]ow’s the time to take risks to see if we can improve America’s schools. Let parents make a choice about whether they want their children going to a public school or some competing educational opportunity.”

Powell is former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Quoted in an interview published in NEA Today, the official publication of the National Education Association, April 1997

Ohio State Senator Patrick Sweeney

“I’m stymied and stunned oftentimes by members of the political world, specifically some of our national leaders in my party–Kennedy, Cuomo, et al.–who never sent their children to the public schools of Boston or New York but came out foursquare against vouchers.

“People that have an opportunity to write a check have a voucher in their pocket. What they don’t want are children whose parents you have met today, children who are in the classrooms in this school, children who are in this neighborhood and this inner city, no one wants them to have a checkbook. Ladies and gentlemen, you are the checkbook to opportunity.

“Come with me to Common Pleas Court and watch these children going to jail, one after another. . . . Absent an education we have them for life.

“There’s a social consequence to inaction in education and we’ve been paying it for too many generations. This is one program. Not the panacea. Not the cure. But it is one the legislature absolutely must learn from.”

Democrat Sweeney testified in April 1997 before an Ohio House Education Committee hearing at HOPE Central Academy–a school created specifically to accept students funded by the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program

Community Leader Anita Nelam

“I don’t know about the Christian right, but I am an African_American progressive Democrat, and I support school choice.”

Speaking for the Detroit Partnership for Parental Choice, a predominantly African-American group of clergy members, parents, and community leaders which is backing a state constitutional amendment to permit school choice. Quoted in Education Week, June 24, 1998


A survey by the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which specializes in racial issues, found African_American respondents were more pessimistic about public education than were white respondents. African-Americans’ support for vouchers increased a remarkable 19 percent from 1996 to 1997, and reached 86.5 percent among respondents 26_35 years old.
The New York Times, January 5, 1998

Former public school teacher David Kirkpatrick was a senior officer and staff member for affiliates of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Association of University Professors. He is distinguished fellow at the Blum Center at Marquette University and director of the School Choice Project at the Allegheny Institute.