Supporters of government vouchers, which would enable students to choose their own schools, were given practical advice at the Christian Coalition’s annual "Road to Victory" conference. The conservative grassroots coalition, founded by Rev. Pat Robertson in 1989, has over 1.6 million members who are highly critical of public education. The organization’s growing political power has made it a favorite among GOP leaders, and it played a significant role in delivering Congress to the Republicans in the previous year.
The conference, held on September 8-9, attracted House Speaker Newt Gingrich and seven of the nine Republican presidential candidates. A session entitled "School Choice – The Next Victory" provided attendees with legal and political strategies for implementing vouchers at the state and federal levels. These vouchers would allow students to attend religiously affiliated schools. Critics argue that using government funds for religious schools violates the separation of church and state, as described in the US Constitution.
Representative Frank Riggs, a Republican from California and a sponsor of a bill to create a federal voucher program for low-income students, stated that the separation of church and state is a spurious argument. He urged the audience to counter the claim that they belong to an extreme right-wing movement. Allan Parker, president of the Texas Justice Foundation, a San Antonio-based nonprofit that advocates for limited government, distributed a brief analysis of case law regarding vouchers and the Constitution. He argued that voucher plans would meet the constitutional requirements. He also handed out a tip sheet to rebut another conservative argument against vouchers, which suggests that private schools receiving tax money may become subject to excessive government regulation. Parker maintained that using free-market forces to improve schools aligns with the American way and would lead to bad schools either copying good ones or going out of business. He emphasized that the real battleground is at the state level, where constitutional variations exist.
Another speaker, Stan Jordan, a member of the school board in Duval County, Florida, advised approaching voucher legislation with moderation. He emphasized the need to structure the legislation so that it does not bankrupt the school district. Jordan suggested that only students already enrolled in public schools should be eligible for vouchers, and that voucher programs should be introduced gradually, one grade at a time. He acknowledged that fighting for such bills is tough due to bureaucracy and unionism but believed that with careful structuring, this idea could gain limited support.
During the Q&A session, a member of the audience claimed that the voucher bill in Pennsylvania had been killed by liberal forces who convinced conservative Republicans that vouchers would introduce "inner-city values" to their school systems. Parker responded by asserting that such a program would, in fact, provide good schools in students’ neighborhoods and bring about a positive transformation in values for city students.
In another session, participants discussed what they called the "dumbing down" of the elementary school curriculum, which evolved into a broader discussion about what conservatives believe is wrong with American schools. Bruno V. Manno, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who served in the US Department of Education under Presidents Reagan and Bush, emphasized the need for high standards, testing, and accountability to address this issue. Robert Holland, the opinion page editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, accused schools of neglecting educational fundamentals to focus on instilling specific sociopolitical attitudes in children.
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