School choice and the opportunity for parents to use vouchers will be addressed Wednesday by many of the Republican presidential candidates in New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation primary next year.
The occasion will be an education summit in bucolic Londonderry, New Hampshire, hosted by the pro-voucher American Federation for Children (AFC) and moderated by onetime "Today Show" hostess Campbell Brown.
"As we saw in the recent [Republican] debate, the national press looks for the most divisive issue on education with which to question the candidates," AFC spokesman Matt Frendewey told Newsmax, recalling how moderators of the Aug. 6 debate focused almost exclusively on the controversial Common Core federal education program.
In sharp contrast, he pointed out, "vouchers transcend party boundaries. They appeal to single women, black Americans and Hispanic Americans."
The use of vouchers to send children to alternatives to public schools began two decades ago with pilot projects in cities including Jersey City, New Jersey, and Milwaukee. Now there are more than 48 voucher programs in 23 states, and, according to the AFC, and all have bipartisan support.
Wisconsin has three statewide programs and North Carolina has eight.
Rob Warren of the University of Minnesota said that students who have taken advantage of Milwaukee's voucher program "have a 12 percent higher graduation rate than before the program existed, and a 12 percent increase in those pursuing higher education."
In Londonderry, where local School Superintendent Nathan Greenberg will welcome an expected 700 to 800 attendees, no less than six GOP presidential candidates have confirmed they will attend and speak at the gathering: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Among the panelists at the summit will be Indiana Rep. Luke Messer, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, education correspondent Allysia Finley of The Wall Street Journal, former New York City Chancellor of Education Joel Klein, and Betsy DeVos, national chairwoman of the AFC.
The political wallop packed by the voucher issue, AFC’s Frendewey told us, can be found in the 2014 elections.
"Never before has so much been spent so unsuccessfully by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers and others to demonize supporters of vouchers," he said, noting that Republican governors and gubernatorial candidates running as pro-voucher candidates all overcame teacher union-fueled anti-voucher broadsides.
Along with the re-elections of current presidential hopefuls Walker and Kasich, the pro-voucher victories included Republicans winning statehouses in Illinois, Florida, Georgia and Arizona, as well as Republican legislative candidates in Alabama.
Frendewey cited in particular Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s razor-thin (48.1 percent to 47.1 percent) re-election win over former Gov. and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, an opponent of the voucher program Scott championed.
Douglas C. Lyons of Florida's Sun-Sentinel pointed out that "in 2010, Scott received 6 percent of Florida’s black vote. This time he got 12 percent, a statistical difference of roughly 61,000 votes."
Out of more than 5.6 million votes cast in the race for governor, there was a difference of about 66,000 between the winner Scott and loser Crist.
"[The voucher program] was the reason why Rick Scott won that election," Kevin Chavous, a one-time city councilman in Washington, D.C., and now executive counsel for the AFC, told the Washington Examiner after the results were in. "He really had no base of support in the African-American community but for this one issue."
The AFC is planning a second education summit in October, to be held in Iowa in partnership with the Des Moines Register.
"Republicans have to recognize that they need to talk about this issue," said Frendewey. "Republicans have talked about what they are against for too long. This is something they can be for — proudly."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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