In recent weeks, newspapers and broadcast outlets have carried stories and advertisements suggesting that African-American parents especially those in our nation's inner cities are desperate for voucher aid to send their children to religious and other private schools.
This media frenzy is driven by the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a new organization founded this year to promote "educational choice." Although BAEO is actually a tiny front group operating out of Marquette University and unrepresentative of the thinking of most civil rights leaders, many unwary reporters have bought the line that black families have given up on public schools and now favor taxpayer-subsidized tuition at private schools instead.
There's only one thing wrong with this picture: It's completely bogus.
During last November's elections, California and Michigan voters cast ballots in school voucher referenda. In both states, the proposals were voted down by wide margins. In California, Proposition 38 was defeated by a staggering 71 percent to 29 percent. In Michigan, Proposal 1 went down by a similar 69 percent to 31 percent.
These tests of voucher popularity were noted in the nation's news media, but in all the hubbub over the presidential election, not nearly enough attention was paid to the details of the referenda. Exit polls in both Michigan and California indicated that voters from every racial, religious, political and socio-economic classification rejected vouchers.
Contrary to the propaganda from the BAEO, African-American voters in California disapproved that state's sweeping voucher scheme by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin. In Michigan, the Detroit News reported that blacks rejected Proposal 1 by nearly four to one. Wayne County voters (where heavily black Detroit is located) rejected the scheme by a slightly higher margin than the rest of the state, tallying 72 percent against and only 28 percent for.
The results in Michigan came despite the fact that the pro-voucher campaign heavily financed by right-wing Amway millionaire Dick DeVos recruited a small cadre of African-American clergy in Detroit to back the effort and give the appearance of black community support.
The voucher verdict among blacks was reflected among other racial groupings as well. A Los Angeles Times exit poll found that whites (70-30 percent), Latinos (77-23 percent) and Asian-Americans (66-34 percent) also turned thumbs down on California's Prop. 38.
Repudiation of vouchers also extended to a cross-section of religions. Although the Roman Catholic hierarchy repeatedly demanded that its parishioners support Michigan's Proposal 1, the flock decided not to comply. According to the Voter News Service, Catholics there spurned the scheme by 64 percent to 36 percent.
Even though Catholic schools would be the greatest immediate beneficiary of voucher programs, Voter News Service found that California Catholics rebuffed Prop. 38 by a 66-34 percent margin. The Los Angeles Times survey reported an even greater disparity, with 69 percent of Catholics saying they voted no, compared to only 31 percent who voted yes. (The majority of Catholic families send their children to public schools, and even many of those who patronize parochial schools know that government aid will inevitably lead to government control.)
Protestants in California were only slightly more likely to support vouchers than Catholics. According to the Times, 65 percent of them turned their backs on such church school aid, while 35 percent embraced it. Jews were the most adamantly enthusiastic about church-state separation, casting 83 percent of their ballots against Prop. 38 and only 17 percent for.
The political breakdown on vouchers is also fascinating. According to the Detroit News, all political camps in Michigan voted against the DeVos scheme, except those who identified themselves as "strong" Republicans. Democrats there rejected the measure by four to one.
In California, similar results were found. The Los Angeles Times said 83 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans opposed vouchers. The newspaper reported that 85 percent of self-described liberals had no use for private school aid, nor did 76 percent of moderates and 51 percent of conservatives.
Socio-economic factors also gave voucher boosters little hope for future success. Parents of public school students told pollsters in Michigan that they snubbed vouchers by more than two to one. In California, 68 percent of parents opposed Prop. 38, while 77 percent of those who weren't parents did so.
Age, gender, educational level and income also meant little in the anti-voucher tide. Seventy-four percent of West Coast women shunned vouchers, while 67 percent of men did the same. Under-30 voters cast 75 percent of their ballots against the measure, while 72 percent of seniors followed suit. Those with a family income of less than $20,000 voted against Prop. 38 (73-27 percent) at about the same rate as those who made $75,000 or more (70-30 percent). Californians with only a high school diploma or less vetoed vouchers by a 70-30 percent margin, while those with a college degree or more did the same (71-29 percent).
What's the bottom line? A national exit poll says it all. According to The Washington Post, 78 percent of voters in November preferred fixing public schools while only 16 percent wanted to move to a voucher system.
Americans from all walks of life have rejected vouchers and cast a strong vote of confidence in our public school system. We hope our nation's elected officials take note.