PHILADELPHIA (AP) — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder drop a lawsuit over school vouchers being used for private schools, or face the wrath of Congress.
Cantor, speaking Monday at a Philadelphia charter school, also predicted that all U.S. students will be entitled to school choice within 10 years.
"If the Attorney General does not withdraw this suit, then the United States House will act. We will leave no stone unturned in holding him accountable for this decision," Cantor, a Virginia Republican, told an audience Monday at Freire Charter School. "The Attorney General will have to explain to the American people why he believes poor minority children in Louisiana should be held back."
About 1,000 students apply by lottery for 150 spots in the freshman class at Freire Charter School's high school, where students told Cantor about their Advanced Placement classes and tutoring centers as he toured quiet hallways and classrooms. The school opened about 15 years ago in a former YWCA, after a $3.5 million makeover, according to board chair Thomas A. Caramanico, president of a nearby engineering firm.
Cantor toured the school with Rep. Patrick Meehan, a fellow Republican who represents suburban Philadelphia.
A small group of protesters outside argued that charter schools are draining funds from the embattled public school system in Philadelphia, which barely had enough money to open this year. Retired nurse Rosalind Applewhite, who has grandchildren and great-grandchildren in city schools, said money being spent on prisons and charter schools should go to regular public schools.
"We're taking money out of education for Corrections. If we're not giving it to Corrections, we're giving it to charter schools that it's been shown don't work," said the 67-year-old Applewhite. "If they're not going to listen to us and start funding our public schools, ... we're going to have to find new elected officials."
Cantor, however, said billions have been spent on public school reforms in recent decades, to no avail. He said that one-fourth of U.S. public school students don't graduate high school, and half of those in big cities don't graduate on time.
"The lack of education opportunities cause too many American kids to drop out of school. Most remain in poverty. Others choose a life of crime and some end up in jail. This is the greatest civil rights challenge of our time, and it is up to us to solve it," Cantor said.
Louisiana has had a school voucher program for 20 years, and expanded it to include private schools after Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in 2007. Only students in failing schools with family income below the poverty level are eligible, Cantor said.
At Freire, student Tyrone Williams told the congressmen that his AP classes are challenging, but said Freire teachers remind them the hard work will be worth it when he gets to college.
"We've already had that experience, because we've had college classes," Williams said.