May 24, 2002

May 24, 2002 | News Releases on Education

Survey: Members of Congress Who Use School Choice Often Vote Against It

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2002-Not all federal lawmakers have children. And not all of those who do send them to private schools. But all 535 of them have access to the latest information on the success private schools have had in improving the academic achievement of students who came to them thanks to voucher programs.

They also know-or ought to know-that the public schools those children left also have improved, according to a growing body of research. And that the students who left because of vouchers weren't-in most cases-the "cream" but average pupils whose parents wanted them to be more, do more and learn more.

Which makes it all the more puzzling when legislation such as House Amendment 57 to the No Child Left Behind Act goes down to defeat. Because, as a new paper from The Heritage Foundation shows, if only the members who had put their own children into private schools had voted to extend the same opportunities to all children, the amendment would have passed and a new day in American education would have dawned.

In the paper, Heritage education researcher Jennifer Garrett revealed that 69 members of the House of Representatives who voted against the amendment send or have sent children to private schools. The amendment failed, 273-155. Move those 69 from the "against" column to the "for" column, and the amendment would have passed, 224-204.

A Heritage Foundation survey found that 47 percent of House members and 51 percent of senators with school-age children sent them to private schools in 2001-even though Congress voted that year against two House amendments and one Senate amendment that would allow other parents to do the same. That's up from 40 percent and 49 percent, respectively, in a similar 2000 poll by Heritage researchers. And many members live in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, home to some of the best-performing public school systems in the nation.

About one in 10 parents across the country send their children to private school, and support for school choice is strong, Garrett says. A poll conducted in August 2001 by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa, a professional teachers' group, found that 52 percent of parents with children in public schools support proposals that would allow them to choose which school their children can attend-even if that school is private.

Garrett also found that half the members of the Senate Education, Labor and Pensions Committee send their children to private schools, as well as 53 percent of the members of the Senate Finance Committee and 43 percent of the members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Also, about a third of the members of the House's black and Hispanic caucuses also sent at least one child to private school in 2001 but voted against school-choice proposals. And they didn't do so to reflect the will of their constituents, because surveys repeatedly show strong support for school choice among poor and minority parents whose children are trapped in failing public schools.

Parents support school choice because it works, Garrett says. The concept has been particularly helpful to low-income and minority children-the very students most likely to be trapped in failing schools. Harvard University's Paul Peterson, who has studied privately funded voucher programs in New York City, Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., found minority children whose parents used vouchers to get them into private schools showed significant academic improvement.

And Carolyn Hoxby, the Harvard education economist who has studied Milwaukee's program, has concluded that competition from private schools and among public schools clearly boosts student achievement at all schools in the area.

"The failure to approve measures to enable all children to benefit from the best school environment possible makes less and less political sense," Garrett says. "Parents across all racial and socioeconomic groups support school choice. It's time Congress catches up and quits leaving children behind."

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