(CNN) – Continuing his outreach to minority voters, Sen. Rand Paul told an audience in Chicago Tuesday that the debate over school choice is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue, but a fight between the "dead-enders" and "those who believe in innovation."
"We've been trying the same thing with education for 50-100 years, and education particularly in our big cities has been a downward spiral," the Kentucky Republican said. "So just throwing money at the problem hasn't fixed the problem."
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Paul argued that education is "the great equalizer," saying more competitive school systems would result in a level playing field and give everyone a chance at economic success.
His comments came during a forum on school choice hosted by the Illinois Policy Institute and held at the Josephinum Academy, an all-female Catholic high school that has a population of mostly non-white students and represents 37 zip codes.
As Paul considers a 2016 presidential campaign, he's been actively traveling across the country and reaching out to nontraditional Republican voters. He's addressed historically black universities, and he's working with President Barack Obama's administration on trying to lower sentences for nonviolent drug convictions, an issue that resonates in the African-American community.
School choice and voucher programs have been a popular issue backed by Republicans, and high-profile figures like Paul and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, have especially been vocal on the topic. They say it would encourage more school competition and create better opportunities for inner city students.
Opponents of school vouchers say public money should not be used to fund private schools. Others argue that such a system would discriminate against students with disabilities, as some private schools are not equipped to teach students with special needs.
Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee–where Paul is heading Wednesday for another forum on school choice–are two cities that have experimented with a publicly funded school voucher system.
Obama argued in January that the effort in Washington has failed. "When you end up taking a look at it, it didn't actually make that much of a difference," he said in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.
A report from the U.S. General Accountability Office last year showed that the agency that runs the program in Washington lacks the "financial systems, controls, policies, and procedures" to make sure the funds are being spent legally, despite spending $152 million in federal funds since 2004 on more than 5,000 students from low-income families, the Washington Post reported.
But Paul said Washington should stay out of local education decisions. He's in favor of a system that would allow families to use their taxpayer money to choose any kind of school–public, private or charter. He added that he's sending his own son to an all-male school.
"The money's yours," he said. "It's not the government's money."