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Tom Joyner Morning Show commentator Roland Martin talks with Republican Senator Rand Paul about the “Success For Our Children” A Forum on School Choice and the benefits of having charter schools over public schools.

Read the full interview below.

ROLAND MARTIN: Education is a huge, huge issue that many Americans are concerned about, especially African-Americans.  And today in the nation’s capital there’s going to be a forum hosted by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul on the issue of school choice.  He believe that poor minority students should have an opportunity to go to any school they choose to via vouchers, things along those lines.  And so he joins us this morning.  Senator Paul, good morning.

SENATOR RAND PAUL:  Good morning, guys.  Thanks for having me. 

ROLAND MARTIN :  Glad to have you here.  First off, you’re having this forum today.  You’re hosting it with four fellow Republican senators, Lamar Alexander, Mike Lee, Mitch McConnell and Tim Scott.  And I’m curious, did you reach out to any house democrats, state democrats, to say let’s make this a bipartisan deal as opposed to only GOP senators?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:  No, I would like to do that.  You know, on our side, on the senate’s side, the democrats control the committees.  And so we’re not allowed to have an official hearing.  So even this one we have to call it a roundtable or they won’t let us meet in the capital.  But we haven’t found much interest on the other side to do this.

 Some of they say they are for charter schools, but like in my state in Kentucky we can’t get a charter law passed to allow charter schools, which are simply public schools, but public schools are allowed to innovate.  We can’t get it passed because of steadfast democrat opposition.

ROLAND MARTIN :  Why have you chosen this particular issue?  You’ve got lots of publicity for this as well.  Why this particular issue?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:  You know, I think that when you look at unemployment and you look at the overall economic statistics, if you graduate from high school you have a 25% chance of being unemployed.  If you graduate from college you have a 4% chance.  So I think between that and then also waiting to have your family, those are the two key things that we need, so education is really important.  And I’ve just been blown away.  I mean I was in Nashville yesterday at one of these charter schools talking to really one of the most articulate young ladies I’ve seen.  And I’ve got my kids in high school, so I know how are articulate or not they are.  And this woman was very poised, very articulate and she’s going on to Boston University.  I think she came from a disadvantaged background. 

 We had several parents there.  And they all were just, you know, one woman said she tried to get her kid into five magnet school but did not win the lottery and she was at wit’s end thinking they would have to go to the local crummy school.  And then she heard about this charter school and got her child in.  But to me it’s just, it’s sad, that you’ve got twice as many people who want to get into these charter schools and there’s not enough spots, but then you have resistance by some people politically saying, oh, we don’t want any charter schools because it gives too much freedom to both parents and teachers to change and innovate the education.

TOM JOYNER:  Is that what they’re saying?  Or are they saying that the charter schools are taking money from the public schools?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:  Well, you’re right.  That’s probably the way they put it, but charter schools are public schools.  So, but you’re right, they don’t argue it exactly the way I described it, they argue that they think they know better, I guess, how to spend the money.  But the thing is the results coming from our traditional schools aren’t that good.  When you look at graduation rates from high school in the traditional schools in D.C. it’s just not that great, but when you look at those who have gotten vouchers, it’s over a 90% graduation rate.

 ROLAND MARTIN :  So, Senator Paul, when you say supporting vouchers, give me a percentage or a number in terms of who should get this.  And look, I’m a school choice supporter.  I’ve gone to magnet schools as well.  But in Illinois, the then state senator, James Meeks, had a voucher bill that said students who went to the – 5% of the worst schools, meaning in terms of performance – the 5% worst would get the vouchers.

The top 95% wouldn’t.  It passed the Illinois senate.  It died in the house because house republicans, this was supposedly one of their issues, did not support it.  And so who should be able to get vouchers?  Are you starting with the worst of the worst?  Or saying anybody?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:  Yeah, I think starting with the worst of the worst, if that’s the coalition it takes to get it passed is reasonable.  And I would vote for any school choice.  But I wouldn’t, you know, I wouldn’t say that I would stop there.  If more people would support it I’d do school choice for everybody saying what’s good for poor kids is also good for middle class kids. 

 But really there are a lot of kids in poorer schools in the cities that aren’t doing very well, why don’t we start with the worse of the worst problem, but if it works, let’s say charter schools work, my goal would be why don’t we change all schools into charter schools?  And this doesn’t mean getting rid of public schools; it just means a new model for how we build public schools.  And the model is basically that local principals, local teachers have more control about the way they teach.  And one of the things I heard yesterday from the parents, which is pretty remarkable and pretty simple, she said that when her kid began at this KIP charter school she had to come in and sign a contract saying that she would monitor her homework and that she would insure that the child was doing the homework, and that she would come in periodically and sit down with the teacher.  And I hear that over and over again from teachers who are successful. 

 One teacher told me, she said, you know the only thing I do, I call every Friday, every parent.  I have 20 kids in my class, or 17 kids in my class.  I call every parent on Friday and tell them how they’re doing.  Johnny’s doing his homework, Susie’s not doing her math, Johnny did poorly on a math test, and give them feedback and get the parents involved.  And I think that’s what you got to do.  But these are little things that really we got to do more than what we’ve been doing in the traditional school.

TOM JOYNER:  Sybil and Jay, are charter schools available to everyone?

SYBIL WILKES:  They were supposed to be.

 SENATOR RAND PAUL:  You know, I think it depends on the area and the state.  Sometimes they’re open, most time I think they do have a monetary, you have to be in a lower monetary category to get in, I think.  But I think it’s different in different states.

ROLAND MARTIN:  I will say this here, Tom, it is one of the criticisms, but here’s a reality.  Magnet schools are also not available to everybody, meaning there’s also a process in terms of applying to get in.  And so the thing, Senator, that I’ve always said is that when I look at education you have a slice that goes to magnet schools, that goes to charter schools, it might go to vouchers, it might go to different programs, but I don’t believe in shutting off any avenue.  But I certainly believe in the issue of performance and how do you actually get students to learn.  But I will say this, Senator, the people who support vouchers, and I challenged them at their conference two years ago, that if you truly support the issue you start with those students that go to the worst of the worst schools and say they should have the opportunity first, not a middle class student who is doing well who frankly can go to a fairly decent school.

TOM JOYNER:  That would be fair.

SENATOR RAND PAUL:  Yeah, I don’t have a problem with that.  The only argument I would push a little bit on it, if it succeeds and the schools are doing great, for these kids, expand the program.

ROLAND MARTIN:  I would say, Senator, if you go for the bottom 5% and if it does well, then you go for the bottom 10% and the bottom 15%, but the fear of many people is that you have individuals who support vouchers who are not minority.  They’re looking for their kids to go better schools.  I’m saying the challenge is if you start there people would say, yeah, you care about the people who have the worst education versus some kid who can frankly go to a decent school whose middle class.

SENATOR RAND PAUL:  Well, the other thing that’s kind of interesting with this is, you know, my kids go to a public school in Kentucky.  We actually choose to go to the school in the city which is a much more diverse community in that school.  So we have the reverse of what’s happening in America where people went to the suburbs.  We’re in the suburbs and we choose to go to the city school that has great academics and also great athletics.  And everybody is choosing to go to this school.  In fact so many, so they’re trying to limit people now going, but School Choice works.