It's for the children

National | To expand opportunity, expand students' education choices

Issue: "Urban mission fundraising," Sept. 27, 1997

The skin-pigmentation monitors are upset that fewer "minorities" have been admitted to California and Texas universities this fall because of the curtailment of affirmative action in those states. Among the freshmen at the University of Texas are 150 black students, half last year's number. At the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, one black is entering the first-year class. Last year there were 20 black first-year students.

But instead of lowering admissions standards and counting non-white noses, let's devise ways to boost the qualifications of applicants. President Clinton is pushing for a national standards test developed in Washington. Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) has a better way: school choice.

Sen. Coverdell's proposal was pulled from the budget agreement following a threat by the president to veto the entire measure unless school choice was removed (see WORLD, Sept. 13). Such is the power the National Education Association (NEA) has over this administration. The Clintons and Gores chose to send their children to elite private schools because they are rich and can afford it. They don't want poor and middle-class children to have the same opportunity.

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Sen. Coverdell notes that 40 percent of all 10-year-olds can't meet basic literacy standards; that across the United States 2,000 acts of violence occur in schools daily; that American eighth-graders recently placed 28th in the world in math and science skills; that 88 percent of children entering Los Angeles public schools won't be able to read at eighth-grade level when they graduate, and only 40 percent of all students will graduate; that almost one-third of college freshmen require remedial instruction. Despite this poor performance, the NEA, for political reasons, wants to maintain the nation's largest monopoly and doom many children to an inferior education.

For this, the federal government spends $97 billion per year of our money on more than 760 education programs spread over 40 government agencies. "This is a system that is failing morally as well as practically," Sen. Coverdell says.

He proposes "A-plus Accounts," which would allow parents to establish a savings account designated for their child's (or any child's) education at any school-public, private, religious, or even home school-from kindergarten through college.

The plan would involve after-tax dollars, so it would take no money from government-school budgets. Interest on the savings account would be tax-free so long as the money is used for tuition or other education-related purposes, such as buying a computer. Grandparents, businesses, or wealthy individuals would be free to start or add to the account of a family or non-family member, making it a perfect vehicle for charitable and scholarship efforts.

This could be a hot issue for Republicans, hotter perhaps than tax-cutting. The current system has trapped students and good teachers in a failed system with little opportunity for improvement. Money is not, and never has been, the solution to our education problems. Opening the system up to competition would improve not only the quality of education but the quality of the educated.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the president has agreed to meet with him, Sen. Coverdell, and a group of parents who want the same opportunity the Clintons had in preparing their daughter for Stanford by sending her to the elite Sidwell Friends school. Surely if the "fairness" issue was paramount for the president when it came to tax cuts, then fairness in education ought to be just as important.

The NEA opposes anything that would break its intellectual, political, and moral stranglehold on America's children. It knows that the only way to maintain its influence is to keep most students and teachers locked in a failing system. Sen. Coverdell says if $2,000 a year goes into a child's A-plus account starting at birth, assuming a 7.5 percent interest rate, that child would accumulate $14,488 by first grade, $36,847 by junior high, $46,732 by high school, and $71,355 by college.

Politics is the only reason President Clinton would oppose such a plan. He's always telling us he cares for children. The Coverdell proposal gives him a chance to demonstrate how much.

c 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.


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