Sen. Rand Paul to visit Chicago on school choice push

U.S. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a conservative summit meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Lucas Jackson / April 12, 2014)

As he considers a 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul acknowledges the GOP must go beyond its base and find ways to grow support or it will be unable to elect a national standard bearer.

On Tuesday, Paul comes to Chicago as part of a two-day Midwest push for school choice, attending a forum co-sponsored by the conservative Illinois Policy Institute at Josephinum Academy, an all-female Catholic high school in Wicker Park.

Paul’s visit to traditionally Democratic Chicago, along with a similar stop the next day in Milwaukee, is an attempt to advocate for an issue that he said he believes resonates with voters in major cities.

“I think our party is not big enough to win national elections unless we are able to do something different. We have to realize that what we have put forward in the past is not attracting a large-enough body of voters,” Paul said.

“So I’m a big believer that we need to go after issues like education, like school choice, and look to come to the larger cities. Chicago would be one city where we (Republicans) haven’t done very well,” he said. “So we need to really look to bring in a new message to new people if we want to have a chance.”

With the closing of dozens of schools and a chaotic education environment over the issues of funding and teacher pension costs, Chicago would seem an unlikely stop to promote an issue adamantly opposed by the Chicago Teachers Union and public school advocates.

Paul, however, said the lack of improvement in public schools has hurt primarily “an African-American audience” in major cities, leaving students with few future job opportunities.

Last year, Paul joined with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in backing legislation to allow federal Title 1 funds for students from low-income families to travel with the student. Funding would take the form of a voucher or certificate to provide school choice, rather than automatically flow to the public schools. A similar plan was advocated by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

For the libertarian-leaning Paul, advocating a federal policy on education — traditionally an issue reserved for state and local communities — is a break.

“Right now, we have a large degree of federal involvement and if we’re going to have federal involvement I see no reason why the concept of choice and competition can’t be attached to federal funds,” Paul said.

“I would let it go directly to the poor kids and let them choose which school they want to take it to — public, private or otherwise — and maybe through that innovation and through competition, the schools would get better. I think we can’t just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,” he said.

The complete interview with Paul can be heard on “The Sunday Spin," which airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on WGN AM-720.

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