One of President Obama’s first acts as president was to strip opportunity scholarships for low-income minorities in DC to attend private schools, including the elite Sidwell Friends – the school his own daughters attend. This week the president showed he wasn’t finished, when he released his 2016 budget, which would allocate just enough funding to cover the administrative costs of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, ensuring the demise of a life-line to the poor.
This decision was made despite a U.S. Department of Education report showing those students who were offered a scholarship were performing at statistically higher levels in reading — equivalent to 3.1 months of additional learning. It’s disheartening when those who tell us they care about minority and poor children side with special interests and the education monopoly racketeers. Indeed the Obamas, the Clintons, and many other elites who oppose school choice and make it harder for charter schools to operate, send their own children to private institutions that cost more than many Hispanic families make in a year.
The good news is that cronyism and bad policy is increasingly looking like bad politics too. Politicians trying to court the coveted Latino vote cannot ignore the fact that 74 percent of Hispanics favor school vouchers, 68 percent support Educational Savings Accounts and a full 80 percent support a system of tax credit scholarships. The numbers are just as strong among African American – nearly 69 percent support charter schools and 74 percent support vouchers. In 2013, some 57 percent of Hispanic registered voters called education an “extremely important” issue facing the nation according to a Pew Research Center poll. These numbers are the reason why politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are daring to cross party and union lines to stand with desperate parents.
In New York, for example, according to report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, inner city Hispanics who attended charter schools for eight years closed the achievement gap with affluent suburbs like Scarsdale by 86 percent in math and 66 percent in English. Children who receive school vouchers and attend charter schools are also more likely to graduate.
And charter schools have proved to be particularly effective in Hispanic communities: according to a recent study, when in charter schools, these students gain the equivalent of 5 extra weeks in math and 3 weeks in reading compared to students in traditional public schools. These results confirm that it’s not the poverty and it’s not the kids – it’s the school. And it’s common sense. Competition works. Ask any parent if their child will run faster from the house to the mailbox if he runs by himself or if he races to the mailbox with his sister. It’s a no brainer. And far from threatening public schools, choice and competition improves all schools, while generating significant savings in the process. Charter schools receive almost 30 percent less per pupil than traditional public schools.
The LIBRE Initiative joins parents, teachers and students across the country in the fight for an end to government monopoly in education and a parent’s fundamental right to choose. We know that the enemy of upward mobility is not poverty or even other people’s success. The enemy of upward mobility is apathy and an educational system that offers choice to the privileged and traps the most vulnerable in unsafe and poor performing schools.
Instead of flicking Hispanics and other minorities more crumbs off the government table, how about making it easier for us to enter the ranks of the middle class? Minority and low-income parents are just as capable as wealthy parents of identifying schools that are providing a first class education. Stop infantilizing us and start empowering our families with choice, with freedom, and personal responsibility.
Rachel Campos-Duffy is an author, pundit, and mother of seven. She is the national spokesperson for the LIBRE Initiative, an organization that promotes economic liberty, empowerment, and opportunity for Hispanics.