I was aghast to read Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle’s response to a question from The New York Times columnist John Tierney, “How long will blacks vote for a party that opposes the voucher programs they strongly favor?”
Doyle’s response: “I don’t think this is an issue that moves voters.”
The discussion took place in context of the Democrat governor’s opposition to moves to expand the number of vouchers available in the immensely popular and successful school choice program in Wisconsin.
In a recently released Zogby poll, only 3 percent of respondents, with barely any difference between Democrats and Republicans, listed “Education/Schools” as the two top issues facing the country.
Maybe Doyle is right. After all, getting elected is his business. But mine is writing about what I think is important. From a black perspective, education is critically important.
Specifically, I think hope for the future of America’s black community hinges on education and whether we can succeed in getting school choice implemented nationally.
Here’s the logical progression. Poverty persists disproportionately in the black community. Education, which correlates perfectly and positively with earning power, is the antidote to poverty. Key to breaking the cycle of poverty is getting black kids educated.
But this is not happening. Inner city black kids drop out of school at alarmingly high rates, and those who make it through are finishing with poor skills.
Another powerful correlation with earning power is family. Higher income families are disproportionately households headed by a married couple. Poor households are disproportionately headed by single parents.
Based on 2002 census data, of all children living in families earning $75,000 per year and over, 90 percent are in families headed by a married couple. Of all children living in families earning $15,000 per year and less, 75 percent are living in families headed by single parent.
As of 2000, according to the census bureau, about 63 percent of black families were headed by a single parent and 26 percent of white families were headed by a single parent.
Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute, in a recent article, shows the link between education, economics, and traditional families.
Despite the hoopla about the new independent woman, Hymowitz reports that 90 percent of women with a college degree get married prior to having children. This is true of only 64 percent of women with 9 to 14 years of education.
Hymowitz concludes that the real “gap” in the country is a “marriage gap.” There is indeed two Americas. One revolves around traditional family, is more educated and populates the higher income portion of the spectrum. The other revolves around broken families, is poorly educated, and populates the lower end of the income spectrum.
Of course, it’s not clear whether more education produces stable families or vice versa.
But looking at the situation of blacks, it doesn’t matter. It’s a mess across the board. Kids are not getting educated and families are largely not intact.
Back to education and school choice.
Blacks must get their children educated if the economic picture is going to change, but it should be clear this challenge is multiplied by the fact that black kids are starting out overwhelmingly from families that are already broken.
Those that argue for school choice correctly make the case that competition produces better products, whether we’re talking about computers or schools.
But in addition to the benefits of competition, it is inordinately important that single black mothers have the option of sending their kid to a school where the educational culture is defined by traditional values. This is not the case with public schools.
How much can be expected from a single, poor mother who must compete with a prevailing popular culture that conveys meaningless and relativism to her kid, and then must compete with a school system the conveys the same? This mother should, and must, have the option of sending her child to a school that teaches traditional values.
Schools can and must play a vital link in helping to break the cycle of kids from poor, broken families going on to create more poor, broken families.
It is ironic that a country that rejects the idea of imposing values on others maintains a monolithic public school system that does just that.
Politicians who pay lip service to the growing gap in incomes and the plight of our growing poor, black population must appreciate that this problem is first and foremost a crisis of freedom and values.
I suggest that no black American cast a vote for any candidate of either party that does not support school choice.
(Star Parker is author of “Uncle Sam’s Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can Do about It” and president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, www.urbancure.org.)