In Phila., Rep. Cantor touts school choice, charters

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (right) and U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan visit Freire Charter. "Within 10 years, education opportunity and school choice will be a reality for every single student in America," Cantor predicted.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (right) and U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan visit Freire Charter. "Within 10 years, education opportunity and school choice will be a reality for every single student in America," Cantor predicted. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 25, 2013

It was AP English, not government, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was familiar with the topic of instruction Monday morning in the writing center at Freire Charter School.

"We're studying point of view," a student told the congressional visitor, and Cantor chuckled. Through the window of the third-floor classroom, Cantor and the students could hear about a dozen protesters outside chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Eric Cantor's got to go."

"You look out the window," Cantor told the class. "There's a lot of points of view."

His own viewpoint, he said later in an address at the Center City school, is that a decade from now, charter schools and vouchers that give students alternatives to neighborhood public schools will be available across the country.

Touting his attempts to pass federal school-choice legislation, Cantor (R., Va.) said, "Today, for the first time, I'm going to make a prediction. . . . Within 10 years, education opportunity and school choice will be a reality for every single student in America."

He criticized a lawsuit that the Department of Justice has brought against Louisiana's school-voucher program.

"Halting the Louisiana education opportunity program would trap low-income minority kids in failing schools. This is nothing but Washington standing in the schoolhouse door," he said, a line that drew applause from the audience of Freire students, teachers, board members, and parents. "If the attorney general does not withdraw this suit, then the U.S. House will act. We will leave no stone unturned in holding him accountable for this decision."

Cantor toured the school with U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.). They walked past a science classroom where a teacher was demonstrating problems on a smart board, and posters advertising local information sessions about colleges including Yale, Brown, and Duke.

The representatives asked students about their experience at the school, and most of them emphasized Freire's focus on college readiness.

"In public school, the work was really easy. Here, they give you work on top of work and expect you to finish it like you're in college," one student said.

Another added that at Freire, few students roam the hallways during the school day. "When I went to public school, there wasn't no structure."

The students asked Cantor and Meehan why they decided to pursue careers in politics ("I wasn't great at math," Cantor's response began), and whether they had spoken to the president.

The 500-student charter school, founded in 1998, accepts students through a lottery system. A flat-screen monitor in the lobby touts the students' high SAT and PSSA scores.

Cantor and Meehan praised the school, but the small group of protesters outside had few kind words to say about charter schools or Cantor.

"Our schools are being starved of resources. Charters this year have more resources than our community schools," said Alison McDowell, the mother of a seventh grader at Masterman. "They're actually taking away choice from families to have access to schools that are in their neighborhoods, that don't have barriers to access for admissions. . . . Really, what they are allowing us to choose are corporate franchises."

jzauzmer@phillynews.com @JulieZauzmer

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