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Jewish World Review Feb. 2, 2000 /28 Shevat, 5760

Don Feder

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Hillary will say anything for teachers unions -- LAST WEEK, liberalism's Eveready Bunny, Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, was frantically beating the drum against school choice, favored by her likely Republican opponent, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Vouchers are "gimmicks" that "divide communities," Mrs. Clinton told an appreciative audience of school superintendents.

"There is no evidence that they work. There is evidence that they drain dollars and students from the public schools when we need those dollars and students."

For Hillary, students are the property of public schools. Funding also belong to public education, regardless of how badly it's spent. But much as she admires America's ignorance factories, Mrs. Clinton believes they are for other people's children.

When the first family moved into the White House, daughter Chelsea, then an eighth-grader, was enrolled in the Sidwell Friends School, a tony institution that's usually referred to with the adjective "exclusive."

Had Chelsea attended the district's public schools (which make Chechnya seem safe), it's doubtful she'd be a junior at Stanford today. Public education needs students, but not Bill and Hillary's student.

Her anti-voucher bombast shows how well the first lady has learned her husband's great lesson: When it comes to political rhetoric, reality is irrelevant. Thus Mrs. Clinton can ignore a mountain of data and declare that there's no evidence educational choice works.

But Cleveland and Milwaukee both have thriving voucher programs that are meeting the needs of inner-city families. (In December, the Cleveland program was ruled unconstitutional by a judge appointed by Hillary's husband. The decision is under appeal.) Voucher legislation is pending in 25 states.

A Harvard survey showed that parents of Cleveland's 3,700 scholarship students are twice as likely to be satisfied with their children's education as public-school parents.

Another study, this by researchers at Indiana University, found students in the program for two years had gains of 12.5 percent in language arts and 11.1 percent in science on standardized tests.

By why look that far afield. Take New York City, of which Mrs. Clinton may have heard. It's on the tip of the state the carpetbagger wants to represent in the Senate.

New York's taxpayers spend $10,000 annually to miseducate each of the 1.1 million students in its public schools.

This profligacy has bought schools where half of the students read below grade level, where last year 52 teachers, and administrators at 32 schools, were caught helping students cheat on tests to boost overall performance, and where a frustrated Mayor Giuliani said the best thing to do with the system would be to blow it up.

Several years ago, New York's Cardinal John O'Conner challenged the city: Send me the lowest-performing five percent of your students and I'll educate them in our parochial schools, which presently have a 60 percent minority enrollment.

No one took him up on the offer, and little wonder. The city's parochial schools spend about $4,000 per pupil, less than half the cost of public education.

As documented by Sol Stern, education writer for the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, in 1996 Catholic schools had a four-year graduation rate of 95 percent, compared to 25 percent in the public schools.

In that year, 75 percent of parochial-school students took the college admissions test and scored an average of 815. The 16 percent of the city's public-school students who took the test scored 640 on average.

Even someone who'se been sheltered in the White House and Arkansas' executive mansion for the past two decades can see that by every measure private education does more for less.

That's why vouchers terrify the teachers' unions and their political muscle. They are determined to keep the human resources from escaping the educational gulags constructed for them.

Thus, choice is for the nation's ruling elite like the Clintons, not for poor black and Hispanic parents. Their children are the fodder needed to maintain America's public-school monopoly.

In return for reflexive oppoistion to educational opportunities (the mindless mouthing of moth-eaten cliches), teachers' unions provide the votes for candidates like Hillary Clinton, who will say anything, however absurd, to earn their gratitude.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate