This year, many on the left are celebrating 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared his War on Poverty — an era that saw the creation of massive new government programs that liberals proclaimed would raise living standards for the poor. However, it’s a distinctly ironic anniversary. Half a century later, with the Census Bureau reporting more than 46 million Americans still mired in poverty, these same liberals seem insistent on denying low-income children quality educational opportunities, through cruel policies that will only perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has embarked on a systematic campaign to destroy the city’s burgeoning charter school movement. He’s diverting more than $200 million in funding marked for charter schools, and has also thrown hundreds of students out of their promised school buildings. He has also declared his intent to nullify arrangements that allow charters to locate in existing public schools rent-free.
The mayor’s open warfare against Eva Moskowitz, who founded a network of 22 charter schools, has all the markings of a petulant tyrant holding low-income students hostage. De Blasio has said, “There’s no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent” — as if the 6,700 students in the charter schools she runs were a mere afterthought in his personal vendetta against a fellow Democrat.
Last May, he told a teachers-union forum that Moskowitz “has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.” Yes, by all means, let’s not “tolerate” someone behind a movement to empower parents and students with more — and better — education choices. This woman who is making it possible for low-income kids to have an equal opportunity for a quality education must be stopped.
In Louisiana, we know a thing or two about government authorities meddling in parents’ right to choose the schools that are best for their children. President Obama’s Justice Department filed a lawsuit trying to impede our program that gives parents of low-income students in failing schools an opportunity to attend a better school. Fully nine in 10 students participating in the program are minorities, yet the Justice Department seeks to block the program on the grounds that it would lead to racial segregation. The lawsuit would be funny if it weren’t so sad — and if the lives of so many young African-American children weren’t at stake.
Lost in all the outrage manufactured by Mayor de Blasio is one simple fact: School choice works.
In New York, four in five charters outperformed comparable public schools in recent state tests; Moskowitz’s schools scored in the top 1 percent in math, and top 7 percent in English. In the president’s hometown of Chicago, one network of charter schools boasts a college graduation rate three times the average of Chicago public schools.
Yet these achievements are no matter to the left, which still clings to the shibboleths of a one-size-fits-all, Industrial Revolution-era education agenda dictated by government and teachers unions.
In his 2009 inaugural address, President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place.” Yet the sound science of numerous studies confirming the positive effects of school choice on student achievement matters far less to Democratic politicians than the nearly $100 million in contributions they’ve received over the last 25 years just from the two largest teachers unions.
Worst of all, the left and teachers unions aren’t just denying the clear facts — they’re denying millions of low-income students the opportunity for a better future.
As long as they stand on the side of the unions, it seems, President Obama and Mayor de Blasio don’t mind standing between children and the opportunity for a great education. But it’s clear to me, and it’s clear to thousands of parents from the Lower Ninth Ward to the Lower East Side, that their misguided and immoral policies will limit the futures of yet another generation of African-American youths.
I firmly believe in this fundamental premise: “In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education … And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.”
Those words came from President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address. I wish both the president and Mayor de Blasio would take those words to heart, and stop denying low-income families opportunities and choices for the quality education all children deserve.
Because this generation of Americans deserves more than the message they’re now getting from liberal leaders: If you like your poverty, you can keep it.
Bobby Jindal is the governor of Louisiana. This piece originally appeared at, of all places, the New York Post.