Joseph Lieberman: School choice is a winning policy, so why don’t Democrats support it?

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What if I told you that a policy proposal has a 73 percent approval rating? That includes 76 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of whites, and 69 percent of African Americans. And 56 percent of those polled said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported this policy. If you were a Democratic candidate for president, you would naturally think that supporting such a policy would be a smart thing to do.

What is this popular public policy?

Is it “Medicare-for-all”? Is it the “Green New Deal“?

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No. It’s school choice.

In a June nationwide poll from Mason-Dixon Polling on behalf of the American Federation for Children, 73 percent of voters said they support school choice programs that give “parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.”

Support for school choice is strongest in the South (80 percent), West (77 percent), and Midwest (74 percent) including important battleground states in the electoral college. Republican support for school choice is stronger than Democrats. Still, more registered Democrats (45 percent) would support a candidate who backs school choice than would oppose one (43 percent).

Parents naturally want to give their kids every opportunity they can to do better. Setting students up for success should be the first consideration not just for parents, but for the federal government when it decides how best to support education.

Not only do core constituencies in the Democratic party, including African Americans and Hispanic Americans, overwhelmingly support choice, but 75 percent of Independents, who will likely determine the outcome of the elections in 2020, also support school choice.

So why do the two dozen Democrats vying to replace President Trump oppose this policy? Sadly, my suspicion is that it has something to do with securing the backing of teachers’ unions, which are fervently against giving parents the choice of taking their children out of public schools that they believe are not educating their kids.

Parents naturally want to give their kids every opportunity they can to do better. Setting students up for success should be the first consideration not just for parents, but for the federal government when it decides how best to support education. We can do that by empowering low-income families with the ability to choose the best, individualized K-12 educational path for their child, which is something high-income parents do every day by paying to send their children to a private or religious school of their choice.

Instead, today’s system is largely based on one model, one path, and that path unfortunately doesn’t work for millions of American children. That’s why we need to support choices for parents and their children that they otherwise couldn’t afford.

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The Democratic Party that I joined a long time ago was on the side of the average American with dreams of rising higher and higher, rather than the elites who have already made it. Supporting school choice is a good way for my fellow Democrats to show they still embrace that priority.

Polling shows school choice is a winning position, and a growing body of research shows its greater effectiveness in educating children. Supporting school choice takes courage for a Democratic presidential candidate, but it is the right thing to do for America’s low-income children. It’s even the smart thing to do politically.

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