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Sen. Rand Paul says school choice could expand GOP

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 4:22 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 11:33 p.m. CDT

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CHICAGO – Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said voters in Democratic strongholds such as Chicago will think differently if they see Republicans not just visiting these places, but discussing issues pertinent to their circumstances.

That thinking was behind the 2016 GOP presidential prospect's visit to a private Catholic school Tuesday to promote school choice for lower-income and minority students.

"If people say, 'We're going to go out and get the African-American vote,' that's all good and well, but you also have to have something to say," Paul told reporters after an hourlong talk with students and parents at a private Catholic school Tuesday on Chicago's near north side.

"We could use a few more votes," Paul told reporters after an hourlong talk with students, parents and faculty at Josephinum Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school. "We have to figure out as Republicans how to get our message to the people who favor charter schools and favor choice in schools, and say, look, we do care about your kids."

Paul was scheduled to take his message of a more inclusive Republican Party to the University of Chicago, after meeting with African-American leaders in the city and discussing economic development.

Paul, who is weighing a 2016 GOP presidential bid, has called for widening the party's appeal to include more racial and ethnic minorities and younger voters, a clear majority of which President Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

The libertarian-leaning son of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul called opponents of federal money for school choice "dead-enders," whom he described as Democrats and elements of the education establishment, especially teachers unions.

"We need to say, hey, we want to empower teachers," Paul told the audience of about 300 at the school on the city's near north side. The student body is predominantly racial and ethnic minorities. "You can't have it all coming down from Washington."

Education has taken a back seat to the economy, the national debt, national security and health care in recent elections. After all, only about 1 percent of the federal budget is spent specifically on education.

But Paul said he expects it to play a larger role in the upcoming election, as a proxy for the scope of government, which Republicans are divided on how tightly it should be contained.

He told reporters after the event he wished education was controlled solely by state and local government. But as long as some federal money goes to education, he would like it to go to low-income students, and not the school districts.

Education "needs to be a big issue" for the 2016 presidential campaign, because it reaches out to some communities that haven't been listening to Republicans, he said.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also is weighing a 2016 GOP presidential bid, has been a proponent of school choice and headlined an education event in Arizona on Monday.

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