Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Demand action—not just rhetoric—on school choice

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 26, 2012

This week is School Choice Week. Since it’s an election year, it’s also nearly time for Republican candidates to proclaim their devotion to the cause of school choice.

In every presidential contest since 1968 (and perhaps further back: my active memory only stretches that far), the GOP contender has found a propitious occasion to speak to a heavily Catholic audience and announce his stalwart support for tuition tax credits, vouchers, or some other means of supporting families who send their children to private and parochial schools. The audience loves the speech, the candidate’s statements are reproduced in flyers to be handed out to Catholic voters, the activists who work full-time on the issue are energized.

Then after the election the campaign rhetoric is put into mothballs, to be brought back out during the next campaign.

Does this seem harsh? OK, prove me wrong. Show me a presidential initiative that has offered a realistic policy to promote school choice. Show me a speech (to a non-Catholic audience) in which a presidential candidate made this issue his centerpiece. Show me a State of the Union address (in a non-election year) in which the issue was mentioned. Show me a federal budget that included provisions for vouchers or tax credits. Remind me of the legislation that was introduced in Congress and pushed to the fore by party leaders.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to hear the arguments in favor of school choice, if only because they keep the issue alive. I’m happy that Republican candidates recognize this as an issue they can and should exploit. But if school choice is a winning issue during the campaign season, it should be a winning issue afterward as well.

If it’s a winning issue, after all these years why haven’t we won?

Catholics need to do a much better job of extracting promises from political hopefuls, and then holding the politicians to those promises. We have been too easily satisfied with rhetoric—too quick to assume that someone is our friend because he says what we want to hear. Talk is cheap, especially in politics. Actions matter. Votes count. We should support the people who do things for us, not the people who keep promising to do things.

Since 1968, the issue of school choice has become steadily more attractive—and not just to Catholics. This is a vitally important issue to the growing number of Catholic families with children in private schools, in religious schools of varying sorts, and in home schools. Meanwhile the public schools have become more and more problematical: both because their costs are running out of control and because they sometimes seek to indoctrination our children with an alien ideology. Experiments in school choice at the local level have met with resounding success. Literally millions of families would send their children to private or parochial schools, if only they could afford it.

This year, for School Choice Week, let’s all make a commitment that we’re going to demand action—not just arguments—to help parents educate their children.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 28, 2012 3:10 PM ET USA

    Show you when school choice was offered as a serious intent? Show me an occasion when Republicans controlled Congress AND the Presidency. Democrats have frequently controlled House, Senate, and the Presidency. They've repeatedly made their intent clear: They'll defend public schools practically at all costs. If We, the People, desire greater school choice, we'll need to elect leaders who're likely to enact such legislation.