by alexmhogan, Wed Feb 20, 2008 at 10:54:44 AM EST
Barack Obama has a solid progressive legislative record, which is
enough to make me think his occasional use of right-wing talking points
when talking about domestic programs like social security and
health-care is an electoral ploy. But then he comes out with this.
Senator Obama said this week that he is open to supporting private
school vouchers if research shows they work.
"I will not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making
sure that our kids can learn," Mr. Obama, who has previously said he
opposes vouchers, said in a meeting with the editorial board of the
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We're losing several generations of kids,
and something has to be done."
Education analysts said Mr. Obama's statement is the closest they
have ever seen a Democratic presidential candidate come to embracing
the idea of vouchers.
Vouchers, taxpayer-funded scholarships that allow families to opt out
of public school and use their government-allotted education dollars to
attend a private school instead, has been a major right-wing policy
objective for years. From the National Education Association:
Despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about "school
choice" and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers
remain an elitist strategy. From Milton Friedman's first proposals,
through the tuition tax credit proposals of Ronald Reagan, through the
voucher proposals on ballots in California, Colorado, and elsewhere,
privatization strategies are about subsidizing tuition for students in
private schools, not expanding opportunities for low-income
children....In the words of political strategist, Grover Norquist, "We
win just by debating school choice, because the alternative is to
discuss the need to spend more money..."
Bush has been a particularly strong advocate of vouchers, pushing a
federally funded voucher program on the citizens of the District of
Columbia and in his 2009 budget proposal proposed $300 million for
national private school vouchers.
Obama would likely argue in his defense that he is only considering
vouchers, and that his openness on the issue will be popular with
independents and moderates who are frustrated with the pace of change
in our public schools. But as Ruy Teixeira pointed out in a survey of
voters' attitudes about public schools:
Despite criticisms of its current performance, the public's views
on educational reform start with strong support of the public school
system--particularly as it functions for low-income students. The
public wants that performance improved, starting with higher standards,
and is willing to tolerate fairly strict guidelines and testing regimes
to accomplish this goal...The data also indicates that the public is
far more interested in implementing more accountability in public
schools and providing more resources to the public school system than
in moving to a voucher-based system. Indeed, vouchers tend to lose
badly today when in political propositions precisely because they are
perceived to be in conflict with the public's commitment to adequate
resources for public schools.
In 2006, voters in the reddest of red states, Utah, delivered this
message loudly when they defeated by a 62% to 38% margin, a referendum
which would have confirmed a law passed by the legislature to create
the most comprehensive education voucher program in the nation.
The question is why Obama, who is now the Democratic frontrunner,
decided to flirt with a program that is not only unpopular with the
party's base, but with the nation at large and whose biggest proponents
"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to
explain to us what the exit strategy is."
--Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)(also 1995)