Recently, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reiterated his belief—a belief I and millions of Texans share—that school choice is the civil rights movement of our time.
It didn’t take long for opponents to come for him and claim that school choice is actually a segregationist plot. For example, the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel published an editorial titled “Bless his heart; Ted Cruz makes a stupid comparison.” In it, the newspaper claims that Ted Cruz is dead wrong, primarily because school choice is a “segregationist plot” that is unwanted by most of Texas minorities.
But this just isn’t true. Attempts to re-write history and distort facts will not go uncorrected by the freedom fighters and opportunity providers advocating for school choice.
Fact is, as far back as 1958, it was the teachers’ union segregationists who were worried about vouchers because they believed they would speed up integration. These segregationists were looking for ways around the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and decided to very carefully redraw school district boundaries along racial lines. In fact, it was the Virginia Educators Association (VEA) union, partnering with the Charlottesville, Virginia school district, that helped block a school choice system in Virginia—because, in their own words, if “any White parents withdrew their children for any reason, it would open up an enrollment space that a Black student could then claim.”
Simply put, school choice would have upset their careful segregationist-led boundary drawing and would have led to, as the Charlottesville public school district attorney grotesquely said, a “negro engulfment” of public schools. Opposition to school choice was about perpetuating separation on the basis of race.
So, school choice isn’t rooted in segregation—opposition to school choice is—and empowering parents with the freedom to select the best school for their child is.
That’s why school choice is so popular with Texas voters that only one single demographic opposes it. According to a poll done by University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs and Texas Southern University Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, white, Black, and Hispanic Republicans all have huge majorities in support of school choice, while Black and Hispanic Democrats also have wide margin of support for school choice—to the tune of 20 and 15 points, respectively.
That leaves only one demographic group that doesn’t: white Democrats—the same group that fought for segregation—is fighting to keep kids whose parents can’t afford to move to a better school district or go to a private school from accessing the American Dream.
It’s intellectually dishonest to argue that school choice is segregationist—in fact, it’s the opposite. In Texas, our public schools are still assigned based on a child’s address, which are still highly segregated along socio-economic and racial lines. School choice removes those artificial boundaries and allows parents to make the decision about what is best for their child.
School choice breaks down institutional barriers, like zoning, and lifts up the students stuck in bad schools—the same way that school choice would have sped up integration in the 1950s. School choice is the civil rights issue of our day because the system is unfair to the least well-served among us and school choice helps break out of it.
So yes, Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, bless Ted Cruz’s heart, not because he’s wrong, but because he has the courage to say what’s actually happening and because he’s willing to deal with the attacks that will come with it.