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  • Morning Bell: A Bright Spot in Education Reform

    With more than 100 House Republicans voting for a farm bill that betrays every conservative principle about governing, it is no wonder conservatives are disillusioned about Republican prospects this November. However, while liberals are already scoring victories for protectionism, judicial activism, and union power, there has been one bright spot for conservative ideas and policy: parental choice in education.

    Since liberals are currently in control of Congress, the biggest gains in education reform are happening in the states. Most recently in Georgia, Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) signed a law creating a Tax Credit Scholarship Program that allows corporations and individuals to receive 100% tax credits for their donations to a state scholarship fund for low-income students. The fund will allow roughly 10,000 students to better their education by attending the private school of their choice. The legislation built its political support from the success of a 2007 program that has already helped 6,000 special-needs students.

    In Florida, conservatives barely passed a similar tax-credit voucher program in 2001. Seven years later there are 20,000 students in the program, 64% of whom are black or Hispanic. When conservatives pushed to vastly expand the program this year, the bill passed by large margins with many Democrats crossing over to vote for the bill. Democrat state Rep. Bill Hall told the St. Petersburg Times: “I’m a strong advocate for public school education, and I’m not necessarily a strong advocate for vouchers. [But] the bottom line has to be the child. If good things are happening for the child, then you can justify it.”

    Even in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, parental choice in education is taking root in liberal strongholds. In 2004 Congress created the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which offers private school scholarships to disadvantaged students. More than 7,200 students have applied for scholarships, but due to funding restraints only 1,900 have been awarded grants, which are worth up to $7,500. Seventy-four percent of voters in Washington, D.C., are Democrats and current Mayor Adrian Fenty received 89% of the vote in 2006. In April of this year, Mayor Fenty testified before Congress in favor of increasing funding for this school choice program by $38 million.

    The success of school choice programs in D.C., Milwaukee and Florida are encouraging bipartisan support for similar programs nationwide. Bills have been introduced in Missouri and New Jersey, and New York’s new governor has signaled he is open to expanding educational options for parents. In an otherwise darkening time for conservatives nationally, allowing federalism to lead the way on education reform is one thing conservatives can still be proud of.

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