Is Clinton ready to fight for school choice?

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Education continues to be a dominant concern for the nation’s growing Hispanic community. Anyone who hopes to lead our country after 2016 will need to address the real issues that Hispanic parents face. Although Hillary Clinton has talked vaguely about education, there’s one major educational challenge she hasn’t addressed since announcing her presidential campaign. A hint of this issue appeared in her campaign announcement video, which featured a mother whose daughter was about to start kindergarten. They were moving, the mother said, so her daughter could attend a better school. 

Fortunately for that young mother, she had the ability to relocate and choose a good school for her daughter. But not all parents have that choice. The street they live on too often determines the quality of their children’s education and, as a consequence, their future. 

{mosads}This is especially true for Hispanics. Surveys show 50 percent of our community feels that K-12 education is on the wrong track. Hispanic children face a persistent gap between them and white, non-Hispanic students on standardized tests – 21 points in math and 22 points in reading. 

Secretary Clinton’s campaign has not yet identified solutions she would propose to end this educational inequality. It’s my hope she understands, as millions of parents across the country have learned, that providing families meaningful choices and greater control of their children’s education is one of the most effective ways to help make quality education available for everyone. 

It’s called school choice. It has been tested throughout the country, and it gives parents alternatives to local public schools that are unsafe or underperforming, or both. 

No matter where you live, school choice increases the quality of education—and not just in charter and private schools. Research from the Manhattan Institute shows evidence that public school performance improves in regions with school choice. In Arizona, with the 6th largest Hispanic public school enrollment in the country, public school districts offer dynamic, personalized courses, and successfully coexist alongside many charter schools. As one Arizona public school spokesman said, “competition forces every provider — public district, charter, private — to improve quality.” 

Some states help promote school choice with programs like tax credit scholarships and vouchers. These programs empower parents who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford alternatives to their children’s zoned school. 

But many states do not make school choice as widely available. In the states where Clinton has lived, for example, school choice programs are either an afterthought or severely handicapped by government regulations. 

In Illinois, where Clinton was born and over 500,000 Hispanic K-12 students live, students have limited education options throughout the state, and charter schools are mostly confined to Chicago. 

Charter schools in Arkansas, where Clinton was first lady, can only be created or funded at the discretion of the state. With more local governance and autonomy, charter schools could expand opportunities for the 10 percent of students there who are Hispanic. 

In New York, where Hillary Clinton now lives and served as a senator, the state caps the number of charter schools permitted to open. In spite of that, New York charter schools vastly outperformed their public competitors. Last year, one charter school network serving mostly lower-income minority children had 94 percent pass rate in math and 64 percent pass rate in English. That’s vastly better than the pass rates in New York public schools, and contributed to the Hispanic achievement gap improving throughout the state. 

Students across the country deserve the benefits of school choice. My organization is working to expand school choice across the nation.  It’s our hope that Clinton will join the ranks of the presidential candidates who support school choice, such as Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Our next president must be someone who understands the importance of promoting school choice opportunities in all 50 states. 

No child should lose out on quality education because of their ZIP code.  Every community, including mine, has something to gain from school choice.
Garza is the executive director of the LIBRE Initiative.

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