Catholic schools are in trouble in America and in these darkening economic times, we should expect it only to get worse as families find it increasingly difficult to afford private school tuition. In the last two decades, at least 1,300 Catholic schools have closed. Most were located in our cities, where many children attend low-performing public schools.
Pundits are pushing Sen. John McCain to make vouchers a key fight in the upcoming election. Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review writes convincingly of the need for vouchers. The Washington Post even came out for vouchers today saying, “What’s at stake is not a political point of honor but the opportunity for children to go to schools that work for them. Second, it’s a program that is supported by District leaders and embraced by their constituents. A measure of its popularity is how demand for the scholarships outstrips capacity.”
Yes. Among many, vouchers are very popular. But here’s the sad truth. It’s probably not going to happen. Why? Because there’s little in it for the politicians.
In politics everything comes down to votes and money. Republicans would love to make vouchers a reality. Democrats, who believe in choice when it comes to killing children but not when it comes to educating them, are tied in to the teacher’s unions because of their huge political donations.
So what’s left for the Republicans if all the money goes to the Dems? The votes? African Americans, for the most part, are the ones who most need the vouchers to escape failing inner city schools. So the Republicans would need to get African Americans to vote Republican to support vouchers and that hasn’t happened and it’s certainly not going to happen in this cycle with Sen. Barack Obama on the top of the ticket.
So for Republicans there’s no votes or money in the deal so that would seem to be ballgame. But wait, what about Catholic voters? Sadly, many of them want vouchers in theory but don’t want voucher students in their children’s schools.
I’ve run a few political campaigns in urban/suburban areas and I’ve seen that many white middle class voters have moved out of the cities and into the suburbs in order to escape the worst aspects of city schools for their children. In short, they don’t want vouchers. They love their children and want to protect them. And quite frankly, many don’t want busloads of African American kids being bussed out to the their children’s schools which they pay such high taxes to keep. And those suburbs around major cities in swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan are crucial in the upcoming election.
Sen. McCain has favored vouchers but favoring them and making them a staple of his campaign are two different things. One hope is that his pushing vouchers is one of his much needed olive branches to Christian conservatives but I think McCain is also going to be the recipient of anti-Obama votes from Christian conservatives so we’ve yet to see how strongly McCain is going to court the right wing of his party.
Sadly, Catholic schools are going to have an increasingly difficult time of things until a champion can come along to push vouchers as a social justice issue. That someone may just be the Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal who is pushing either vouchers or tax credits for parents for their children’s education. If it works in Louisiana and minority voters there see an appreciable improvement in their children’s education then Republicans may push Jindal for nationwide office as a candidate who can make real inroads to minority populations.