On the Republican Convention: McCain Is Right About School Vouchers

In this installment of Education Watch, Bruce Fuller and Lance T. Izumi discuss John McCain’s view on education, particularly school vouchers. Go to Mr. Fuller’s post.

Lance T. Izumi, a senior fellow in California studies and the senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, is the co-author of the book “Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice.” (Full biography.)

A key difference between John McCain and Barack Obama has to do with their views on the role and rights of parents in deciding how their children will be educated.

To his credit, Mr. Obama supports parental involvement programs and charter schools. But such programs, as innovative as they might be, are subject to the policies and approval of federal, state or local lawmakers. Governments, not parents, remain the ultimate decision-maker.

School-choice programs like vouchers, however, give decision-making authority to parents. In his speech before the American Federation of Teachers, Mr. Obama criticized Mr. McCain’s “tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice.” He believes that vouchers are unfair to poor parents. But he’s wrong: the the heart of Mr. McCain’s case for greater school-choice options, which includes vouchers, is fair and respectful of parents’ rights.

In his July speech to the NAACP, Mr. McCain said that when the public-school system fails to deliver safe conditions and quality education for children, “parents ask only for a choice in education.” In other words, when faced with grim prospects, fairness requires that parents be given choices and the ability to exercise them. For his own part, Mr. Obama exercised his legitimate and understandable choice to send his daughters to a private school.

Acknowledging the advantage of being a United States senator, Mr. Obama has said: “The question is whether or not ordinary parents, who can’t work the system, are able to get their kids into a decent school, and that’s what I need to fight for and will fight for as president.” But improving the quality of all public schools, as Mr. Obama commendably seeks to achieve, will still not give less-advantaged parents the ability to make the same choice he made for his children — vouchers will.

Mr. McCain’s campaign plan makes it clear that parents need to be deciders of their children’s educational destiny, not hopeful receivers of government’s altruism and promises: “We must place parents and children at the center of the education process, empowering parents by greatly expanding the ability of parents to choose among schools for their children.”

Sarah Palin’s much-lauded acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention had, as a main theme, the empowerment of ordinary people who often feel at the mercy of government and other elites. Regardless of the poll numbers on particular school-choice options or the inside-baseball scrum between academics over the impact of choice on school and student performance, Mr. McCain’s continuing emphasis on fairness and the rights of parents fits well into this wider populist and popular campaign theme, which is no doubt why he continues to emphasize the issue.

*This article also linked to/reprinted in the following publications:

News & Information Blog, September 6, 2008
Vot3r.com, September 6, 2008
Prairie Pundit, September 8, 2008
Kansas City Star (MO), Sepember 12, 2008

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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