The top-tier presidential candidates in the Democratic Party might be placing all their electoral hopes on mendacity. If they believe this is a winning tactic, then the remaining hopefuls may participate in a tiebreaker during the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, WI. In a possible attempt to be more than a billionaire who owns one tie and offers nothing of substance to voters, Tom Steyer echoed the cries of a rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and slammed private education and school choice. Like Sen. Warren, his hypocrisy has been exposed since he, too, sent his children to private school. The DNC should be inserting “for me and not for thee” as a key plank in its 2020 platform this summer.
Democrats on School Choice
Appearing on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal broadcast, Steyer told the audience that he believes universal pre-k through college is “an absolute obligation of the government and a right for every American.” He thinks “having a quality public education is the only way we can have justice and mobility in our society,” and later revealed to The Washington Post that he “does not support using public money for private or religious education.”
Nearly all of his fellow Democratic colleagues share a similar position.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is against federal funding for charter schools, though he used to be in favor of a voucher system when he was a senator. Warren’s education plan ends federal funding for charter schools, restricts the opening of new charters, and calls for the end to private school choice programs. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called for a hold on the expansion of charter entities and demanded strict regulations for current institutions. Pete Buttigieg opposes for-profit charter institutions and vouchers because “they take away funding from public schools.” Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) wants to “end discussions” of a proposal to fund private school vouchers.
The only presidential hopeful to speak favorably about charter schools has been Andrew Yang. He tweeted:
“I have friends who have put their heart and soul into charter schools for underprivileged kids who were being failed by our public school system. Many changed thousands of lives for the better. I admire their work a great deal. They were there for the kids. No other reason.”
The candidates’ objections to educational alternatives would be commendable if not for the blatant hypocrisy. Is it about pandering to unions, appearing to be common folk without the means to spend big bucks on school choice, or just lying?
The Hypocrisy of 2020 Field
Tom Steyer sent his children to the San Francisco University High School that has an annual tuition of $49,496. His children, Sam, Gus, and Evi, were members of the class of 2006, 2008, and 2009, respectively.
In November, Warren was confronted by a pro-school choice activist, Sarah Carpenter, about how the 2020 candidate sent her kids to private school. Warren dismissed the accusation, telling her, “My children went to public schools.” The Washington Free Beacon later learned that her son, Alex, attended the Kirby Hall School for at least the 1986-1987 academic year. Her campaign confirmed to the conservative news outlet that “Elizabeth’s daughter went to public school. Her son went to public school until 5th grade.”
Biden’s son, Hunter, attended Archmere Academy in Claymont, DE. This is the same phrontistery at which the former vice president and his brother, James, studied.
Buttigieg mostly attended private schools, and his husband, Chasten, taught at the Montessori Academy in Indiana. The best part? It accepts students’ dollars from state tax credit scholarships.
Sen. Sanders’ wife, Jane, attended a private Catholic institution in Brooklyn, NY.
What Is School Choice?
Private school choice programs allow poor and middle-class families to flee from the wastelands known as the government education system. By expanding education funding into charters and vouchers, disadvantaged children are provided with financial resources to attend better schools – the very ones that the elite attend. Who would not want that? Oh, that’s right: The omnipotent and vote-rich teachers unions that continually shriek “won’t somebody please think of the children?” a la Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons.
Legendary economist Milton Friedman ignited the concept of a school voucher in the 1950s. He posited that vouchers would lead to an overall improvement in education (public and private), cost less, and produce better outcomes for the students. He wrote in his seminal book, Free to Choose, that “public schools would remain dominant,” but families in urban slums “would undoubtedly try to send their children to non-public schools.”
And they do. Thousands of families in major metropolitan cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, are on waiting lists to enroll their kids in these charter academies. While the supply is growing, it is not enough to meet parental demand. If politicians genuinely cared about the kids, then there would not be such stringent opposition.
It was not always this way, though. Many prominent folks on both the left and the right have spoken positively about school choice over the years. In 1997, then-Senator Biden had this to say about government schools having competition:
“When you have an area of the country, and most often here we are talking about inner cities, where the public schools are abysmal or dysfunctional or not working and where most of the children have no way out, it is legitimate to ask what would happen to the public schools with increased competition from private schools. Is it not possible that giving poor kids a way out will force the public schools to improve and result in more people coming back?”
Not bad. Before Biden went woke, he even correctly explained why tuition is exploding in America: Government-backed student loans.
The Economics of Vouchers
Most conservatives and libertarians can agree that the government education system is horrendous but the two sides will differ on the solution. While vouchers may be an improvement from the status quo, the system generates its own set of problems that might destroy the better alternative for families.
The one area for concern is that, since tax dollars would be allocated to these private institutions, the federal and state governments would have free reign to regulate them. Over the last 50 years, everyone has witnessed the disaster of government oversight of education.
Another issue would be new money being pumped into the private system that would inevitably raise tuition prices. You see this now with government-guaranteed student loans jacking up the cost of college and university tuition. Therefore, the impecunious and middle-class households would still struggle to send their kids to a different school, unable to break free from the shackles of the public-school system. Of course, left-leaning politicians would accuse private educational institutions of price-gouging and claim a market failure that requires the intervention of wise bureaucrats.
Malinvestment would be another common problem if vouchers became widespread. Anytime there is new credit injected into the market, a mix of legitimate and unscrupulous companies comes online. As a result, politicians would run to the scene and save us from these fly-by-night operators and wield the hammer on all private institutions, while ignoring the valid companies.
In the end, unions would partner with some of the biggest and most influential private schools to erect a barrier to smaller startups and install new regulations that prevent them from opening doors.
A Charter to Abolish
If vouchers are not perfect and the government is failing every generation of children, what is the solution? The answer might be to burn it to the ground and start from scratch.
The government has 13 years with kids and spends about $13,000 per student every year. The results have been a skills gap, poor math and reading comprehension, young Americans unprepared for the 21st-century workforce, and too many students who study subjects that will prevent them from competing with their Asian counterparts. One can only imagine how the left would react if the private sector possessed a comparable putrid record. The free market system excels in every area of the economy, so it is not hard to fathom that it would do a better job than the Leviathan.
Neither party has the appetite to go to war with the unions over this idea. Perhaps, until something better comes along, vouchers are the only reasonable and temporary option for inner-city families.
Read more from Andrew Moran.