January 15, 2008

January 15, 2008 | Commentary on Education

Public Elected Officials: Hispanics Want School Choice

Here's a suggestion for a New Year's resolution for politicians -- listen to Hispanic Americans who support school choice. It's an issue of paramount importance to our country's children, and an issue where politicians' seem to be well behind the curve.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Ampersand Agency, 65 percent of Hispanic voters are more likely to vote for candidates who support school choice than candidates who do not. And according to the same findings, only 19 percent stated that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported school choice.

The survey is particularly compelling because it underscores that Hispanic Americans of all political shades favor school choice. According to the findings, 49 percent of the poll's participants identified themselves as Democrats, 21 percent as Republicans and 23 percent as Independents. With so many respondents identifying themselves as Democrats, the poll should also refute the idea that only conservatives favor school choice.

If the message for school choice is resounding, then why the disconnect between the voters and the public elected officials? The answer to the riddle may simply be that maintaining the status quo has been easier than challenging the powerful teachers unions and interest groups.

School choice essentially comes down to a matter of freedom. And when explained correctly, Hispanic Americans will overwhelmingly favor having families, rather than bureaucrats, decide which school is best.

Despite this, it's clear that the news is not getting back to Washington D.C., where the majority of Democratic members of Congress oppose school choice.

Adding to the cynicism is the fact that many of the same politicians opposing school choice are engaging in double-talk by sending their own kids to private schools. According to a recent Heritage Foundation paper, 37 percent of Representatives and 45 percent of Senators who participated in a survey indicated that they had sent their children to private school. And of particular interest exactly 52 percent of Congressional Black Caucus members and 38 percent of Congressional Hispanic Caucus members sent at least one child to private school.

The grim reality is that millions of Hispanic children are struggling in our public schools. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that a Hispanic child is twice as likely to drop out of high school as a white student. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, half of all Hispanic 4th graders scored "below basic" in reading. Politicians have a moral obligation to help every child in America is prepare to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Will 2008 bring about the much needed change to steer the conversation towards greater initiative to empower Hispanic American families for school choice? Let's hope so.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation.

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Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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First appeared in San Diego's La Prensa