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Commentary: McCain right, Obama wrong on school vouchers

  • Story Highlights
  • Parents of children in failing schools want options, Martin says
  • He writes that vouchers are part of solution to improving education
  • McCain is right to support vouchers, Martin says
  • Obama is wrong to follow teachers union in opposing vouchers, he says
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Join Roland Martin for his weekly sound-off segment on CNN.com Live at 11:10 a.m. Thursday. If you're passionate about politics, he wants to hear from you.

Roland Martin says school vouchers should be an option for families with kids in dead-end schools.

Roland Martin says school vouchers should be an option for families with kids in dead-end schools.

ACCRA, Ghana (CNN) -- "All I want is for my children to get the best education they can."

That statement, along with so many others, has been a consistent one that I've heard on my radio show and in discussions with parents for years, especially those whose children are stuck in inner-city schools with decrepit buildings and a lack of critical resources.

And for the past 20 years, one of the most talked-about solutions for parents stuck in dead-end, failing schools is to give them the option to use vouchers to send their children someplace where they could get a quality education.

Republicans have made vouchers a linchpin of their education overhaul initiatives. Democrats have steadfastly refused, saying it would take vital dollars out of the public school system.

This year's presidential candidates are lining up right along with their parties. Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee, says vouchers are the right way to go to give parents an option for a better education, while Sen. Barack Obama says the GOP has talked and talked about vouchers, and it hasn't amounted to much more.

But part of the reason why vouchers have been denounced and dismissed is because Democrats have been far too obstinate on the issue, and have not listened to their constituents, especially African-Americans, who overwhelmingly support vouchers.

There is no doubt that on this issue, McCain has it right and Obama has it wrong.

The fundamental problem with the voucher debate is that it is always seen as an either/or proposition. For Republicans, it is the panacea to all the educational woes, and that is nonsensical. For Democrats, it is something that will destroy public education, and that too is a bunch of crap.

I fundamentally believe that vouchers are simply one part of the entire educational pie. There simply is no one sure-fire way to educate a child. We've seen public schools do a helluva job -- I went to them from K through college -- and so have private schools, home schooling, charter schools and even online initiatives. This is the kind of innovation we need, not more efforts to prevent a worthy idea from moving forward.

Obama's opposition is right along the lines of the National Education Association, and the teachers union is a reliable and powerful Democratic ally. But this is one time where he should have opposed them and made it clear that vouchers can force school districts, administrators and teachers to shape up or see their students ship out.

It is unconscionable to ask a parent to watch as his child is stuck in a failing school or district, and ask him to bank on a politician coming up with more funds to improve the situation. Fine, call vouchers a short-term solution to a long-term problem, but I'd rather have a child getting the best education -- now -- rather than having to hope and pray down the line.

McCain and Obama have presented comprehensive education plans, and those are noble. But leaving out vouchers does a tremendous disservice to the parents who are fed up with deplorable schools, and allows school districts to operate with impunity and without any real competition.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. He is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." Please visit his Web site at http://www.rolandsmartin.com/.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About School VouchersJohn McCainBarack Obama

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