Ted Cruz: Plant the Flag for School Choice

Ken Blackwell is Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment and Bob Morrison is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Christian Post on January 29, 2015.

"It's time to plant the flag on school choice," Sen. Ted Cruz told a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the Heritage Foundation recently. Sen. Cruz told of his efforts to reach across the aisle—willing to work with the very liberal Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D) to help parents choose good schools for their kids.

Promising to make this an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign—with a knowing wink—the senator related his work when he served as an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). There, he supported serious studies of the effects of competition in the formerly regulated monopolies—telephones, railroads, and airlines.

Cruz said he wanted researchers to look not just at the customer satisfaction of those who exercised their new options and chose new carriers. He also wanted the FTC investigators to look at the consumer satisfaction of those who remained with their original carriers. What several FTC studies showed, he said, was that while the customers who left their old regulated service providers were enthusiastic about their new options, those who remained with the formerly regulated utilities reported either increased satisfaction or, in some cases, felt they were no worse off after de-regulation.

This is a critical analytical refutation of the oft-heard jeremiad from teacher union bosses: If you allow parents to choose their children's schools, this will "skim off" all the best students and leave hurting schools and student bodies even worse off.

It appears that this argument for government school monopoly may prove wrong. This is another of those arguments offered against parents right to choose their children's school that may simply not hold water.

Our favorite argument of the government school monopolists came from the late Al Shanker, longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Parents are not qualified to judge their children's schools, Shanker said. They lack the essential knowledge.

Recall the Woody Allen movie, Sleeper, when the lead character explained how a nuclear war had started. "Al Shanker got the bomb," he said. Well, that was meant to be a funny line. In fact, Al Shanker's argument against parents choosing schools is even funnier.

First, if parents are not qualified to judge their children's schools, how can you let them choose a president? Presidents have access to nuclear weapons. After all, the schools are close by, you can visit them, you can judge how your kids feel about school, about learning, about striving to achieve. Who knows how presidents behave in the Situation Room? Who knows whether the president has a keen grasp of nuclear weapons?

Second, if parents are not qualified to judge their children's school, who rendered them unqualified? The vast majority of these parents attended the same government schools that Al Shanker claims are the only ones that should receive our support.

Sen. Cruz passionately defended parental choice in education. He called it "the civil rights issue of our time, comparing it with Dr. Martin Luther King's mission to "let justice roll down like a river."

The Obama administration has been hostile to parental choice. President Obama's Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan tried to shut down Washington, D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). Only when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2011 did the Obama administration have to compromise on the OSP.

We have never criticized President and Mrs. Obama—or President and Mrs. Clinton, for that matter—for exercising parental choice and sending their children to Washington's very exclusive Friends School. What we criticize in these liberal public officials is their unyielding opposition to poor and minority parents having a choice of schools.

Sen. Cruz said he was so committed to parental choice in education that he would willingly have "He gave American parents choice in education" as his epitaph!

The teacher union bosses who bitterly oppose letting parents choose schools would probably like to write Sen. Cruz's epitaph—or at least his political obituary—themselves. They'd like to defeat him and use his defeat as a warning to others: If you advocate for parents, we'll come after you.

It is encouraging to see a group of new lawmakers coming to Washington—men and women like Ted Cruz--who don't just want to make statements, but who want to make a difference.

These lawmakers understand what the Supreme Court meant when it struck down an Oregon law in 1925 that would have outlawed all non-government schools.

[Oregon's] Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children [268 U.S. 510, 535] under their control. As often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation, which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the state. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

The Supreme Court, admittedly, did not speak then to state funding of scholarships, vouchers, or tuition tax credits. But it did raise the great banner of parental rights.

In our time, we need to support parents' rights to "direct the destiny" of their children. Parental choice in education is based on the strongest feelings we have—the love we have for our children. And the fight for parental choice is, as Sen. Cruz has bravely said, vital for those children's "pursuit of happiness."