Rand Paul went to President Obama's adopted hometown on Tuesday to pitch private school vouchers as the "great equalizer" for inner-city minority students. That message doesn't work as well in mostly-white rural areas, where Republicans don't want to send sparse federal dollars to private schools.
Paul visited Chicago's Josephinum Academy, a Sacred Heart-affiliated school that is 5 percent non-Hispanic white, according to The New York Times. There he told students that "the money is yours," and that those who oppose school choice are "dead-enders." Specifically, "the Democrat Party has opposed charter schools and vouchers pretty much steadfastly, and I would say the unions have as well,” he later told reporters.
The thing is, Democrats and Republicans in rural areas oppose private school vouchers — which divert money from public schools to private schools — for the same reason: public schools need that money more. Arizona Republicans recently sided with Democrats to vote down an expansion of the state's voucher program, arguing that "the program unfairly takes money from public schools and gives it to private institutions that cannot be held publicly accountable," according to the Houston Chronicle.
A voucher bill drafted by Tennessee's Republican governor also died this month, because "approximately $15 million would be shifted away from public schools and to private schools," according to Chalkbeat. The bill passed the state Senate, but died in the House. State Rep. Bill Dunn blamed that on the midterm elections, because "lawmakers are probably being influenced by constituents — particularly in rural areas — against the legislation," according to EdWeek. The Associated Press noted that the voucher funds often don't equal the amount of tuition. Rural areas in Kansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have also fought against private school vouchers. Kentucky, Paul's home state, does not have a school voucher program.
Rural schools face many of the same problems inner-city schools face, including higher concentrations of low-income students and limited local funding. The difference is, they tend to be whiter. Republicans on the national stage hone in on school choice benefits for students of color because it's a better political move. But the reasons rural Republicans reject school choice — the vouchers aren't enough for elite private schools and the money belongs in public schools — apply to inner-city Democrats. Republicans know the money is theirs, but they're not voting to put it in private schools.