What will it take to turn lower income parents into single issue voters? In his book, Leave us Alone, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, suggests that while the average voter cares about a number of topics, for many of us, one concern dominates. Politicians, both on the right and the left, may line up on many issues, but you do occasionally see an independent streak. When that happens the logical thing would be for people to say, “Well, I disagree with Candidate X in one area, but agree with him on nine others. He has my vote.” That isn’t always how it works. Frequently there is a ‘deal breaker’. There are those who will never vote for a politician who supports abortion rights, no matter if that person shares their views on gun control and taxation. Other voters will punish a legislator who opposes gay marriage, even though her thoughts on every other topic align with their own. Few of us feel that way about obscure regulation. Generally, there are limited hot button issues which decide us one way or another. These are also the matters that get us to speak to our neighbors, write letters to the editor and even show up for demonstrations.
I was thinking of this as I was brought to tears by Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, Waiting for Superman. The film draws you into the lives of a few children, showing how the teachers’ unions and educational bureaucracy cruelly condemn children to failure. We meet parents sacrificing and struggling to get their children a good education, and cringe as they are thwarted by ‘the system’. Towards the end of the film, we observe auditoriums filled with families holding their breath to see if they win a lottery – not one that will pay out with cash, but rather one that pays out hope. Will or won’t their children be picked to fill the limited number of places available in a charter school?
Watching the documentary, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if these parents and the thousands like them who want the opportunity to choose their children’s school, recognized the political clout they have. What would happen if they and their allies told each and every politician running for office, “Before you get my vote I need a solemn, public commitment that you will support any and every bill to expand charter schools and resist any and every effort to regulate, constrict or limit them. I don’t want to hear speeches about your vote or explanations or hemming and hawing. I simply want your promise and I will hold you to that commitment.” If these same parents and those who support them were vocal about school choice being their one defining issue and voted in that manner, I think they could achieve what years of tears and prayers have not. The teachers’ unions may control politicians through monetary clout, but I do believe that passionate parents can overcome that edge if they realized, believed in, and actualized their own power.