Friday, October 24, 2008

Obama Questioned On Vouchers

Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform (I'm one of the founders of DFER) is quoted in this National Journal article about Obama, the teachers unions, ed reform and vouchers:

Over the years, the deep ties between Democrats and teachers unions have translated into legislation favoring teachers, most memorably the storied fight for collective-bargaining rights in the 1960s. But with increased support for school choice and private vouchers, unions are beginning to lose some of their influence. Support for school choice is growing slowly but steadily among Democratic leaders. Though only a handful in Congress support private or voucher-based school choice, many, including Obama, favor expanded public school options such as publicly funded charters and merit pay for teachers.

The political action committee Democrats for Education Reform, based in New York City, has urged party leaders to expand alternative education reforms. "Democrats downplay the problem and offer solutions that seemingly do not come close to solving the problem, and without much urgency," said Joe Williams, the PAC's executive director.

Williams admits that among his membership -- which includes parents, activists, teachers, and administrators who have served on charter school boards -- vouchers are controversial. He says he understands that Democratic politicians have a hard time balancing the needs of constituents with the demands of teachers unions. "So many Democrats owe their starts as politicians to teachers unions," he said...

...Obama has an opportunity to forge a new path on education reform, according to Samples, who contends that the Democrat's push for charter schools and merit pay is an attempt to provide competition in publicly funded urban schools.

The bottom line is that most Americans believe that Obama can do more than McCain to fix public schools. Polls show that Obama leads McCain on the issue of public school reform, and that Americans believe that Democrats are generally more interested than Republicans in improving public education. Moreover, more than half of Americans oppose using tax dollars for voucher programs that allow parents to send their children to private schools.

Although Obama has an overall edge over McCain on education reform, he still has a job of selling his education ideas to many minority voters.


Obama Questioned On Vouchers

Many minority parents are at odds with the Democratic nominee on the issue of school choice.

Minority voters have long favored the Democratic Party's push for increased federal funding for public schools. But over the past few years, some of these voters have embraced the conservative-backed idea of private-school vouchers for low-income students.

Pro-voucher voters among racial minorities overwhelmingly support Barack Obama, but they are baffled by the Democratic nominee's opposition to vouchers. They also say they are frustrated that Democratic leaders appear to be more concerned about keeping the peace with teachers unions -- which adamantly oppose vouchers -- than about finding alternatives that could advance desperately needed education reforms for minority students.

Obama's "change" message has attracted millions of minorities, particularly African-Americans. Yet he cannot afford to lose minorities who are demanding greater school choice for their children.


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