Sometimes the timing of events is so auspicious that it is hard to attribute it to coincidence.
The week of Jan. 26 is National School Choice week.
First observed in 2011, for the 10th time, events will take place around the nation that are focused on raising awareness about parental choice in K-12 education and the options available to parents and children.
A few days before National School Choice week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which will address the constitutionality of the so-called Blaine Amendments, arguably the greatest obstacle to school choice the nation faces.
Named after Rep. James G. Blaine, who attempted but failed to enact a federal ban on funding religious schools, 37 states subsequently adopted the provision in their state constitutions.
In the case of Espinoza, the state of Montana passed a law allowing dollar-for-dollar tax credits for funds contributed to scholarship programs that parents could use for paying for education in private schools. In that some of these funds would be used for religious schools, the constitutionality of the program was challenged, and the state wound up trashing the whole program.
The hope of many, including me, is that the court will find the rationale behind the Blaine Amendments unconstitutional. It will be a victory for both religious freedom and education freedom.
It is perverse that the First Amendment, which is meant to guarantee religious freedom, has become a tool for discrimination against religion.
After all, when public funds are available for education of any kind and some parents use those funds for a religious school, this is a private choice, not a government mandate. How can this in any way be understood as government establishing religion? It most certainly interferes with the free exercise of religion, which the First Amendment protects.
Education freedom is an issue that deeply divides Republicans and Democrats. And it is an issue on which blacks are more aligned with Republicans.
In a May 2019 poll by Education Next, 70% of black Democrats expressed support for targeted vouchers, 60% for universal vouchers and 55% for charter schools.
It makes sense. Black parents understand the importance of education. Yet their kids are trapped in the worst public schools in the country.
Black parents understand the simple logic of education freedom and the benefits of parents having the power to choose where to send their children to school.
The Democratic presidential candidates across the board want to slam the door on charter schools and education choice. They all see one answer to K-12 education: more federal dollars for public school monopolies. Democrats have their eye on political contributions from teachers unions, not on what children, particularly black children, need.
The electoral model that Republicans need to follow for 2020 is that of the 2018 Florida governors race. Ron DeSantis defeated his black opponent, liberal Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, by a margin of 0.4%. DeSantis got 14% of the black vote and 18% of the black female vote. By most analyses, the explanation for this unusually high black support is that DeSantis is a stalwart on education freedom and parental choice.
Education could, and should, be a defining issue in 2020, and be what makes a critical difference in moving black votes into the Republican column.
Star Parker is president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education
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