Article Published in the Investor’s Business Daily
Listen carefully, class. Who said the following: “If I was the parent of a child who went to an inner-city school that was failing…I might be for vouchers, too”?
George Bush? Nope. Joseph Lieberman? Wrong Again. The answer is Al Gore. He offered this insight at a joint appearance in Carthage, Tennessee last week with Senator Lieberman.
This is the same Al Gore who just a few weeks ago told delegates to the Philadelphia convention of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teacher union:
“Here is what I will never do. I will never support private school vouchers, which would drain public money away from public education. It’s common sense. It’s as clear as A,B,C. You cannot save the public schools of America by destroying public schools in America.”
Never mind that his running mate co-sponsored a bill in 1997 to award tuition vouchers to 1,500 low-income children in the District of Columbia, arguably the worst urban school district in the country judging from its dismal test scores and high dropout rates (President Clinton vetoed the bill). In 1998, when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a pioneering voucher program in Milwaukee, Lieberman declared, “This is an important step forward for those of us who feel there ought to be some scholarship choices for poor children who are trapped in schools that are not educating them.”
A political pragmatist might respond, “So what?” Vice Presidential candidates frequently eat their words in the interest of a united ticket. George Bush, for example, stopped disparaging Ronald Reagan’s supply-side philosophy as “voodoo economics” the minute he joined the ticket. Indeed, Lieberman has already backed away from vouchers and now says expanding public charter schools is as far as he wants to go with parental choice.
Still, there’s that revealing Gore comment in Carthage. It exposes a stark dilemma for Gore and the Democrats. Will they continue to side with the national teacher unions against low-income, largely black and Latino parents who desperately seek the power that more affluent parents possess to find quality schools for their children?
Watch to see if the Gore-Lieberman team now tries to fudge this dilemma by putting all its chips on public charter schools. Speaking to the National Conference of Black Mayors on April 28th, Gore called for converting failing public schools to charter schools.
Gore did not repeat his call on July 5th when he came before the American Federation of Teachers. No wonder. It had just declared war on charter schools by demanding that they be re-regulated and stripped of their exemptions from bureaucratic hoops and collective-bargaining rules. This, of course, would have a chilling effect on the burgeoning charter school movement by robbing individual charter schools of their freedom and incentive to innovate.
Will the Democratic standard bearers side with the unions and against parents even on relatively autonomous charter schools? It is likely. Gore has already indicated that he would forbid charter school principals to hire teachers from outside the state licensing apparatus, one form of flexibility charter operators consider to be essential. When he spoke to another teacher-union gathering in Lansing, Michigan on May 5th, Gore declared that as President he would “require states to guarantee that all teachers are fully certified or working toward certification…”
Senator Lieberman, on the other hand, took the position this year in the continuing congressional debate over reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that state charter-school laws should trump any federal requirement about teacher certification. In other words, if state legislatures so chose, charter schools could have the leeway that private schools enjoy to hire the best and brightest teachers, like those with real-life experience seeking a rewarding career change.
As the election draws near, will Al Gore continue to defend the education status quo, or join “New Democrat” Joe Lieberman in giving parents real choices on the best school to educate their child?
Frank Riggs, a former Congressman from California, sponsored the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998. Joseph Lieberman was chief sponsor of this bill in the Senate. Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
Find Archived Articles: