Many have called school choice – the movement to liberate African American youngsters from the failed schools that don’t teach them – the “civil rights movement of the 21st Century. Donald Trump is one of those who do, but it was Steve Bannon, the CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign, who put it on Trump’s radar and made it a centerpiece of Trumps “New Deal for Black America.”
I happen to know this because I was responsible for drawing Bannon’s attention to it in the first place. I bring this up now, not to draw attention to anything I have done, but to defend a man who has been viciously and baselessly portrayed as a “white nationalist” and “racist,” who has put himself on the line for black America in a way that few others have.
The attempt by desperate, hysterical and malicious voices on the left to isolate, stigmatize and silence Steve Bannon as a “white nationalist,” is despicable, not least because that is the very last thing he is.
“School choice” is a term to describe the provision of scholarships to poor children who are trapped in inner city public schools where year in and year out nearly half of them fail to graduate and the half who do are functionally illiterate and unable to function in a modern economy. These scholarships or “vouchers” would allow poor children to take the tuition that taxpayers already provide, and use it in a school, private or religious, that would actually teach them.
Vouchers are absolutely vital to opening the doors of opportunity to millions of poor black and Hispanic children – and poor white children as well. Democrats are fiercely opposed to vouchers because giving parents the power to choose would break the Democrats’ monopoly, undermine the lock that teacher unions have on the public schools, and threaten the slush fund that the unions provide to the Democratic Party. At the same time, Democrats – the Obamas and Clintons prominent among them – send their own children to private schools where they know they will get a decent education.
Republicans have long proposed voucher systems. But their proposals have failed because of the myopia and timidity that characterizes the Republican establishment. The voucher amounts they propose are too small – far less than an actual tuition – and the programs too modest to gain public attention and therefore support. Sixteen years ago, to get around this deficiency, I proposed to the top advisors of the Bush presidential campaign that they announce a $100 billion voucher program for inner city children. They passed on it. I also got my friend Congressman James Rogan to draw up a bill to do the same. It went nowhere.
Then Donald Trump came along and made my friend Steve Miller his chief policy advisor and my friend Steve Bannon the CEO of his presidential campaign. So I put a voucher proposal on their desks, stressing that it had to be more than $100 billion so the press couldn’t ignore it, and that it had to provide a tuition equivalent to what taxpayers were already paying to the public schools for not teaching their students.
Steve Bannon gave it the green light and Steve Miller went to work on the details. Under Bannon’s guidance, it soon appeared in a Trump speech in Cleveland as a $130 billion scholarship program for inner city youth. “As your president,” Trump announced, “I will become the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.” Under Bannon’s guidance again it became the centerpiece of Donald Trump’s “New Deal for Black America,” which also included making black neighborhoods safe and bringing jobs to the inner city.
I can’t say enough about Donald Trump and his general, Steve Bannon, for getting behind a plan to liberate the children of the inner cities.
I had spent the last sixteen years banging my head against the stone wall of the Republican Party trying to persuade congressmen, senators, and the Bush White House of the importance and urgency of such a plan. But my pleas fell on deaf ears.
The school choice movement had been wandering in the wilderness for want of national leadership even longer. Millions of inner city children had been lost in those years for want of a decent education. Now the wall had come down, and there was a real prospect for something to be done.
School choice is now a presidential priority. It could never have happened without Steve Bannon. It could never have happened without someone in a position like Steve’s who cared about what happened to inner city children and who was willing to put his weight behind a program this ambitious, which no other Republican would touch.
When the history of the 21st Century civil rights movement is written Steve Bannon’s name will have a special place in its pantheon of heroes.