School Choice

There is little or no dispute that government schools are doing a grossly inferior job. For decades, report after report shows that American education is not only bad but it's getting worse. Yet government schools enjoy a virtual monopoly and no accountability. While education is bad generally, that received by black youngsters is no less than criminal. That's despite the fact that public expenditures are greater for inner city schools than most other places. Is there anyone who can make a credible argument that more money and more teachers, as Clinton proposes, will make education better two years from now, five years, ten years or ever?

Parents have little confidence that government schools can or will be improved. In April 1997, the Washington-based Joint Center for Political Studies reported that 70 percent of blacks who earn less than $15,000 a year supported school choice; 86 percent of blacks aged 25 to 35 supported school choice. A 1997 poll conducted by the Center for Education Reform found 82 percent of the general public supports school choice.

There are a few public and private school choice programs. Milwaukee's program provides impoverished inner city children with scholarships to attend private schools. A Harvard University study showed Milwaukee's poor students attending choice schools scored higher on basic math and reading tests. The program's average scholarship is $4,400 compared to $7,400 per child cost in government schools where fewer than 10 percent of its 8th and 10th graders tested proficient in math and reading. Nationwide there are over 35 privately sponsored scholarship programs serving nearly 20,000 low-income children with a waiting list of 40,000 parents wanting to participate. Then there are a number of excelling black-owned and operated schools like Marva Collins Westside Preparatory School, Marcus Garvey School, and Ivy Leaf School. All of these schools have large waiting lists.

Given our rotten school system and the broad public support for school choice, a natural question arises: why don't we have school choice? The answer is easy. The competition and accountability that would emerge from school choice does not serve the interests of the teaching establishment and they have massive resources and political power to sabotage or forestall school choice programs. Whenever a school choice program is proposed or started, the usual suspects line up to oppose it in the courts and legislature, and the usual suspects are the NAACP, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).

Politicians listen to them and plausibly so. According to the record of the Center for Responsive Politics, during the last election cycle the AFT and NEA were among the Democratic Party's top contributors. They gave 99 percent of their members political donations to Democratic candidates. A goodly number of NAACP members are government school teachers; thus, the NAACP protects the interests of their members and the alliances they've made and the heck with black children. They all utter the amazing piety that school choice will destroy our public schools. Even if the Ku Klux Klan ran the schools, they couldn't do a better job of sabotaging black education.

The education establishment's days are numbered; for even liberal politicians are owning up to our education disaster. Senators Joe Biden (D.Del), Joseph Lieberman (D. Conn) and Bob Kerry (D.Neb) now support choice experiments. Other supporters of note, on the more liberal side of the political spectrum, include Martin Luther King's niece Alveda King, columnist William Raspberry and former New York Congressman Floyd Flake. The nation's children don't need to be protected from tobacco as much as they need to be protected from gutter quality, dangerous government schools.

Walter E. Williams


March 23, 1998