The majority leader of the United States Senate is leading us nowhere. Harry Reid, the senator from the Silver State, has run the upper chamber with an iron fist — blocking legislation, even simple amendments, that support the causes his super PAC donors oppose.
That includes ignoring dozens of jobs bills the Republican-led House of Representatives has passed. It also includes opposing the job-creating Keystone XL pipeline project.
As if that’s not bad enough, now Harry Reid’s iron fist looks ready to crush opportunities for underprivileged students. He hasn’t taken action on a bipartisan bill that would support charter schools — public schools that often help underprivileged students by giving them a way to escape a failing school and to attend one that can better meet their needs.
This behavior is not unexpected from Harry Reid. But that doesn’t make it any less cruel.
The Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act already passed the House of Representatives with support from both parties, and it would provide more educational choices to families who need them most. It includes grants to develop and expand charter schools and to improve facilities for them. It solidifies federal support for replicating high-quality charter schools that have proved successful in educating kids in need.
The bill also encourages charter schools to focus on helping those most in need, especially at-risk students.
This legislation passed the House of Representatives easily — and for good reason. In the United States Senate, though, it’s Harry Reid’s way or no way at all, and he won’t bring the bill up for a vote.
It’s hard to understand why Sen. Reid would stand in the way of expanding charter schools and school choice. If he actually cares about our kids, why wouldn’t he want to help them? If he’s actually concerned about the Hispanic community, why wouldn’t he work to improve education, which Hispanic voters consistently rank as their No. 1 issue?
Perhaps it’s because these types of initiatives are so often opposed by special interests, such as teachers unions. And teachers unions are just the sort of special interests that Harry Reid needs support from if he wants to remain majority leader.
By almost any metric, our schools are not meeting the needs of our kids. We’re falling further and further behind the international competition: the U.S. ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.
Almost half of America’s public schools are classified as failing, and far too many schools that serve low-income and minority kids are not meeting their students’ needs and are failing to meet state standards.
The old model just isn’t working. We need more innovative thinking in education, we need more flexibility, and we need a system that focuses on the needs of students, rather than the demands of adults and special interests.
Charter schools can accomplish those goals. In most cases, charter schools are given more flexibility in exchange for more accountability to the state.
Charter schools operate in 43 states and Washington, D.C., and serve more than 2.5 million students, but there are an additional 1 million students on waiting lists. These are students whose parents desperately want to give them a better education, but special interests and government roadblocks are standing in the way.
And one of those roadblocks is Harry Reid.
If the Senate passes this bill — or a similar Senate bill sitting in committee — and if the president signs it, we could open up hundreds of new charter schools across America.
In addition, charter schools can help other schools succeed.
First, competition encourages other schools to do better, to try new things and to improve.
Second, when a charter school finds a better way of doing things, other schools can replicate those best practices. In other words, the benefits could extend beyond just the new charter schools.
The need to improve our education system has never been more urgent — and the opportunities to meet that need have never been greater. Parents, kids and society as a whole stand to benefit greatly from expanding and supporting charter schools.
But there’s still one man standing in the way: Harry Reid. That’s why America can no longer afford — our children can no longer afford — to have Harry Reid serving as majority leader of the U.S. Senate. And the only way to get him out of the way is to elect a Republican majority to the Senate. The time to do that is this November.
Reince Priebus is chairman of the Republican National Committee.