Cantor touts school choice to fight poverty

 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday will hail the movement for greater school choice as “the surest way” to end the cycle of poverty, lending his voice to a new conservative push for solutions to help the nation’s poorest families.

The Virginia Republican will deliver a speech at the Brookings Institution, where he plans to tout a House-passed education bill and push for an expansion of charter schools and voucher programs. He also will call out the new liberal mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, for his plans to tighten restrictions on charter schools.

ADVERTISEMENT
Cantor has sought to make education reform a signature issue in the last year, and his speech follows visits to inner-city schools in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Denver, Richmond, Va, and Washington in 2013.

“School choice is the surest way to break this vicious cycle of poverty and we must act fast before it is too late for too many,” Cantor plans to say on Wednesday, according to excerpts provided by his office. “The fact is, the government's approach to fixing our schools has been too slow, too sporadic and too ineffective.”

His address will coincide with the release of an annual status report on school choice by the Brown Center on Education Policy.

Cantor will call on the Senate to take up the Student Success Act, a House-passed overhaul of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law that removes many federal mandates and returns more power over education policy to the states.

The bill, which most Democrats opposed, includes a Cantor amendment that would allow states to use federal funding earmarked for low-income families for charter schools.

“It is my personal goal that in 10 years, every child in America will have education opportunity through school choice no matter where they live,” Cantor plans to say.

While many Democrats have embraced publicly financed but independently run charter schools, the party remains staunchly opposed to private school voucher programs, arguing that they undermine public education.

Cantor will tout the Louisiana Scholarship Program, a school voucher initiative championed by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) that was the subject of a lawsuit by the Justice Department over claims that it impeded desegregation efforts. 

And he praises the work of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to expand charter schools in New York while criticizing his Democratic successor, de Blasio, over his reported plans to charge them higher rents and prevent them from sharing spacing with traditional public schools.

“This move could devastate the growth of education opportunity in such a competitive real estate market like New York City,” Cantor plans to say. “Just think, how many families will have their choices taken away if Mayor de Blasio pursues these policies? Mayor de Blasio should abandon this plan and allow New York's charter schools to continue to flourish.”

Cantor went a step further, suggesting the House would hold hearings, if de Blasio moved against charter schools in New York.

"Our committees in the House will remain vigilant in their efforts to ensure no one from the government stands in the schoolhouse door between any child and a good education," he planned to say.

De Blasio fired back in a statement to The Hill, issued through a spokesman.

“The Republican agenda in Washington doesn’t even scratch the surface of the inequities facing more than a million children in our public schools,” the mayor said. “It’s a dangerous philosophy that turns its back on public education—and it has failed many times before. What public school parents want—and I know because I’m one of them—are real investments that lift up all our kids. That will take big, bold, progressive ideas. And that’s exactly what the people of New York City just voted for.”

Cantor’s speech comes amid an effort by some Republican leaders to tackle issues of poverty and income inequality that have more often been highlighted by Democrats in recent years. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) plans a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty,” and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will participate in an NBC News panel on poverty at the Newseum on Thursday.

Democrats have repeatedly tried to paint Republicans as out of touch with low-income and middle-class voters. They plan to make income inequality a central campaign issue in the 2014 midterm elections, starting with a push to extend emergency unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage.

— This story was updated at 1:28 p.m.