Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels gave a vigorous defense of school vouchers Wednesday, arguing at an Omaha fundraiser that competition is as good for schools as it is for private business.
He also argued it was the moral thing to do.
“This has been defined as the civil rights issue of our time. And, it is,” said Daniels, who was once considered a Republican presidential prospect before he accepted the post of presidency at Purdue University.
Daniels was the featured speaker at the annual luncheon held by the Children's Scholarship Fund at the Hilton Omaha.
About 570 people attended the event, including Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle and former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub.
The Children's Scholarship Fund helps provide assistance to low-income families who want to send their children to private schools. Last year, 1,827 children in Omaha and northeast Nebraska were given scholarships worth $2.1 million.
Since its founding in 1999, the Omaha organization has awarded more than $21 million in scholarships to students attending kindergarten through 8th grade.
This year's luncheon was sponsored by Lexus of Omaha and The World-Herald.
Daniels was considered a prospective GOP presidential candidate in 2012. Many Republicans had urged him to jump into the race, arguing he had the political chops to win the nomination. In the end, Daniels stayed out, citing his family's reluctance.
Although he has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, Daniels indicated Wednesday that he was out of politics for good. Referring to his role as governor, he said it was the “last and the only elected position I'll ever hold.”
During his years as governor, Daniels was a staunch supporter of school vouchers. In fact, he managed to push through one of the broadest school voucher programs in the nation, allowing low- and middle-income parents across Indiana to receive tax assistance to send their children to private schools.
At the time, teacher unions and others vigorously opposed Daniels efforts, arguing school vouchers would weaken public schools by siphoning off money and students. At one point, House Democrats in Indiana led a five-week boycott, leaving the state, in part, out of opposition to Daniels' school-voucher bill.
Neither Nebraska nor Iowa have voucher programs.
Daniels stood by his support of school vouchers Wednesday, saying they inject competition into education, forcing schools to be more effective and efficient.
After Indiana passed its school-voucher laws, Daniels said, schools across the state began to compete for students, putting up billboards and sending out direct-mail pieces touting their test scores. “For my money, that's absolutely the way it ought to be,” he said.
Daniels also argued that school vouchers were the “moral” thing to do, saying low-income parents should have as much control over their children's education as wealthier parents.
He also said school vouchers force parents to have some “skin in the game,” by forcing them to choose the best school for their children.
“They are fully competent, or as competent, as people who are more prosperous to make important decisions about their lives,” said Daniels.
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