Will Democrats Support Sen. Rand Paul’s School Choice Bill?

School choice programs are popular among minorities and benefits them the most. Supporting them is good politics and good policy

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) reintroduced the Support Children Having Open Opportunities for Learning (SCHOOL) Act on the Senate, the bill -which was accompanied by legislation submitted in the House by Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX)- is aimed at expanding school choice programs in the country, specially at the K-12 level.

This legislation, first introduced by Sen. Rand Paul in 2020, is just another example of the push that Republicans are making across the country for the creation and expansion of school choice programs.

Speaking to El American, the Executive Director of the Educational Freedom Institute, Corey DeAngelis, explained that the proposed bill would “reallocate nearly all existing K-12 federal education funding from government institutions to students” allowing families and students to “cover the costs of any approved education expenses including private school tuition and fees”. By giving this aid directly to the students, this bill would begin to “fund the students, as opposed to systems”.

However, De Angelis also explained that the bill would most likely be dead on arrival as both houses of Congress are dominated by the Democratic party, which has had a lukewarm approach to expand school choice programs throughout the country. Nevertheless, this bill allows us to talk once more about the virtues of school choice or other related programs and highlights the political contradictions the Democrats face when opposing them.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the SCHOOL act last week, however, it is unlikely Democrats would support it. (Photo: school_bus by Thomas Devenishek|Flickr| CC BY 4.0)
School Choice and minorities

School choice is one of the most undiscussed policy discussions in the American public arena today and it defies the assumptions the public has about both political parties. Many school choice programs around the country are heavily beneficial for minority students, for example, the vast majority of students who are enrolled in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program are either black or hispanic (around 67% according to the 2020 data) while also having an emphasis on aiding low-income families.

Furthermore, polls show that minority voters look favorably at similar programs, like charter schools. With a 2019 survey conducted by the Democrats for Education Reform institute showing that there is a significant racial gap in the support for charter school programs within the Democratic Party, with their levels of support for the programs being almost double of that of white Democrats. Furthermore, a poll conducted by Edchoice in 2019, showed that 73% of hispanics and 72% of african americans are in favor of school voucher programs.

Not only does school choice allows parents and students to be who decide their future, it also aids in the elusive goal of “racial equity” that many Democrats pursue, as many studies have shown that school choice programs actually increase the rates of ethnic and racial integration in the classroom. As De Angelis said to us, school choice is “a rising tide that lifts all boats”.

Based on this data, you would expect that the Democratic Party would be a strong supporter of school choice policies in the federal and state level, after all, Hispanics and African Americans are two of the most important constituencies of the Democrats. However, it is the Republican party who has been pursuing these type of policies, with Democrats like Elizabeth Warren proposing to “end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools”. It is rather odd to see progressives opposing a policy that is beneficial and popular within minorities.

School choice programs heavily benefits low-income and minority students. Which is why they receive so much support among the latino and african american communities (Photo: School Choice Week Students by Gage Skidmore|Flickr| CC BY-SA 4.0)
Teachers unions, school choice, and the Democratic party

Teachers unions are among the most fierce critics of the voucher programs, with the National Education Association (the largest teachers union in the country) claiming that school vouchers are “rooted in segregation and racisms” and that they “take scarce funding from public schools and give those resources to unaccountable private schools”.

Teachers unions lend heavy support to the Democratic Party, with them donating almost $52 million during the 2020 cycle, with the vast majority of those funds being directed either to Democrats, or to other liberal groups. When comparing direct contributions by teachers union, the ratio is eye-opening, 98% of financial contribution went to Democrats in 2020. Furthermore, Union-members usually compose almost 10% of the total delegate count in the Democratic National Conventions.

Politicians usually need to play a delicate balance between supporting policies that are heavily popular and helpful to the public but that could hurt the interests of some groups, the issue of “factions” as James Madison eloquently explained in his famous Federalist No 10. Many would argue the GOP has also faced a similar problem, when addressing some gun control policies that are widely popular but fiercely opposed by the well-organized NRA, the school choice issue shows Democrats are not immune to this problem.

Expanding school choice programs is not only popular among minorities and people with lower-incomes but they are also beneficial for racial and ethnic minorities. If Democrats are committed to end racial discrimination and ensuring people with greater needs are given the tools to succeed, they should join in the school choice movement and convince teachers unions to support the students, not the system. Let’s hope they do.

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