Cantor Reaffirms Support For School Choice Programs

On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor vowed to protect and promote school choice programs and attacked Democratic politicians, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for seeking to block the growth of charter schools and voucher programs.

Cantor, long an advocate of school choice, used a speech at the Brookings Institution to vow that Republicans would defend what he called an “education revolution” that has shifted power away from traditional public schools and put it in the hands of parents. Parents are now allowed by many states to get tax-funded vouchers to send their children to private or parochial schools or chose from an array of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.

“Right now, school choice is under attack,” Cantor said. “It is up to us in this room and our allies across the nation to work for and fight for the families and students who will suffer the consequences if school choice is taken away.”

Cantor cited de Blasio’s campaign promise to charge rent to the wealthiest charter schools, some of which receive millions in private donations along with public education funds. Charters were permitted to set up shop for free in existing district schools under the Bloomberg administration, and they often took over several floors in buildings that were not being used to maximum capacity. Additionally, during the Bloomberg administration, that policy (co-location), helped the number of charters soar from fewer than 20 to more than 180. However, among students, parents and school administrators, it caused significant tension.

During the campaign, de Blasio pledged to consider a moratorium on co-locations. Cantor vowed to try to block any rollback in support for charter schools.

“Our committees in the House will remain vigilant in their efforts to ensure no one from the government stands in the school house door between any child and a good education,” he said. De Blasio’s policies, he said, “could devastate the growth of education opportunity” and take choice away from countless families in New York City.

De Blasio fired back, calling the Republican agenda “a dangerous philosophy that turns its back on public education” and that has failed “many times before.”

Vouchers and charters drain money from the public system without necessarily offering improved performance as supporters of traditional public schools, including teachers unions, have argued. In response to Cantor, de Blasio echoed those concerns.

“What public school parents want, and I know because I’m one of them, are real investments that lift up all our kids. That will take big, bold, progressive ideas. And that’s exactly what the people of New York City just voted for,” he said.

Prominent Democrats across the country, including President Barack Obama, support charter schools and have pushed for their expansion despite de Blasio signaling intent to limit charter school growth. However, Obama does not support vouchers and has repeatedly declined to include funding for a D.C. voucher program in his annual budget request.

As reported by Stephanie Simon and Maggie Severns of Politico, to Cantor, Washington, DC’s voucher program remains an unquestioned success, though he cited academic performance statistics that actually came from the city’s charter schools, not its voucher schools. Additionally, Cantor had nothing but praise for Louisiana’s voucher program.