Democratic Dodges

Democrats love to insist that they’re out to empower the little guy, to help “working-class” people. Maybe that’s why they have to tap dance so much when it comes to school choice, a reform that really does empower poor and working-class folks, but that also ticks-off some very powerful big guys who like their monopoly just the way it is.

In an interview yesterday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama offered the sort of lame excuse-making that all too often characterizes the Democratic approach to school choice.

TAPPER: You talked about the need to change the status quo in education today.

OBAMA: Right.

TAPPER: But…proponents of school choice say that the best way to change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice. Why not?

OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you’re going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom. We don’t have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.

So what I’ve said is let’s foster competition within the public school system. Let’s make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let’s make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

But what I don’t want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools. That’s going to make things worse, and we’re going to lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so important to building this country.

TAPPER: So it would help some kids, but overall it would be bad for the system?

OBAMA: I think it would be overall bad for most kids.

Oh please! It stretches credulity beyond the breaking point that someone as smart as Sen. Obama could actually believe these things. Let’s break ‘em down:

School choice would “benefit some kids at the top.” The kids at the top clearly aren’t the ones school choice is serving, or hasn’t Sen. Obama noticed that most school choice programs are means-tested? And parents with money have huge advantages in the current system because they are able to choose schools by buying a house in a good district.  The poor have no such option, and are the ones who need school choice the most.

“We don’t have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school.” Well of course we don’t now because everyone is already paying for “free” public schools. Give parents education money instead of public schools, however, and private institutions will expand to meet newly liberated demand.

“What you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.” Some quick math: Say we spend $10,000 per public-school student and have two students. Then say one is given a $7,500 voucher to go to a private school, and the remainder stays with the public school. Suddenly, the remaining student is getting $12,500, a huge per-pupil increase in resources. Of course, the district could lose the entire per-pupil amount, but it still wouldn’t lose resources. It would break even.

“So what I’ve said is let’s foster competition within the public school system.” While we’re at it, let’s not allow multiple auto producers, let’s just foster competition within General Motors and see how that works

“What I don’t want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools.” Guess what? Public schools actually send the hardest-to-teach kids to private schools right now, so we don’t need to worry; this one came to pass long ago.

“I think it would be overall bad for most kids.” Just like freedom and competition are bad for most people who want news and information, food, consumer electronics, cars, clothes, telephone service….

To be fair to Sen. Obama, at least his objections are comprehensible. Much worse is DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s attempt in today’s Washington Post to show that she really does care about kids in the DC voucher program, a program she intends to see die:

Far from conducting a “campaign” to cut off funding, as The Post alleges [editorial, June 12], I have asked that there be no cutoff at the end of the pilot program, which would leave these children rudderless, and for a plan for the children’s education in case funding does not continue.

What does this mean? Is Norton saying that the kids in the program should keep getting vouchers even if the program ends? If so, why not just say that? And what does “a plan for the children’s education” mean? That we plan to put kids right back in the rotten schools they were trying to escape?

Unfortunately, Norton furnishes what appears to be an answer to these questions. She wants private individuals to fund scholarships after they’ve paid their public school taxes, just as they did before the voucher program. But the public sector won’t just sit there. It will do, um, something:

But whatever Congress decides, surely the private and public sectors working together can develop a plan to satisfy a finite group of children. The Washington Scholarship Fund, which has administered the pilot program, was funding more than a thousand scholarships without federal dollars when it came to Congress in 2003 to urge approval of this program. This and other private funding could be reactivated.

No one is likely to be fooled by Del. Norton’s ham-fisted attempt to seem to care about the kids she’s tossing back into the dens of ignorance. It’s so sloppy and fractured an illiterate could see she’s an artless dodger. But then, she and many other Democrats aren’t really trying to send the message that they care about kids. Their message is that they care about the teachers unions, administrators associations, and other special interests that live off of our decrepit public schooling monopoly, and that message keeps coming through loud and clear.