2020 Democrats Are School Choice Hypocrites

This article appeared in Washington Examiner on December 4, 2019.
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What’s good for the goose is good for the gander — unless you’re talking about the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and education policy. The majority of the front‐​runners either attended private schools themselves or sent their own children to private schools, yet they’re fighting hard against programs that would grant similar options to the less fortunate.

Here’s their latest school choice hypocrisy.

For starters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently released an education plan that is radically anti-choice. It would ban many high-quality charter schools, end federal funding of charter schools, and make it even more difficult to open new charters. She also calls to end private school choice programs — programs that overwhelmingly serve low-income families.

But about a month ago, one of us uncovered that Warren sent her son, Alex, to expensive private schools starting in fifth grade when she was teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. Then, cellphone footage shows the senator lied about it to an African American woman, moments after giving a speech about the rights of black women, before her campaign finally admitted Warren's son attended private school.

Other Democratic candidates have also come out swinging against school choice. Sen. Bernie Sanders called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, Mayor Pete Buttigieg denounced for-profit charter schools and is against vouchers because "they take away funding from public schools,” and Sen. Kamala Harris, who just dropped out of the race, said she’s “particularly concerned with expansions of for-profit charter schools” and said “our country needs an administration that supports public education, not privatization.”

But our new discoveries suggest these candidates are just as hypocritical as Warren.

It’s well-known that Mayor Pete Buttigieg exclusively attended private schools and that his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, taught at the private Montessori Academy in Indiana. What isn’t well-known is that Chasten’s Montessori school accepts students who use the state's tax credit scholarship program. Unfortunately, Buttigieg opposes private school choice programs that provide disadvantaged children with financial resources to attend his husband’s private Montessori school.

To top it all off, although Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign did not respond to requests about where his four children went to school, his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, attended a Catholic private school in Brooklyn.

Even though she's not campaigning anymore, Harris could run for president again in the future, and she still has power over private school choice in her role as a senator. Thus, it's still worth pointing out her school-choice hypocrisy.

Harris’s stepchildren attended Wildwood School, an elite private school in Los Angeles that costs nearly $44,000 in tuition and fees a year and has a student-teacher ratio of only 4 to 1. While her stepson graduated in 2013, before Harris married Doug Emhoff in 2014, her stepdaughter didn't graduate until 2017. The children may just be on educational paths chosen by their birth parents, but it’s still hypocritical to denounce education “privatization” when her stepchildren attended elite private schools.

Harris’s campaign did not respond to our inquiries (sent before she dropped out) regarding where she went to school, where her stepchildren went to school, or why private schools were the best choices for them.

These politicians must deal with a huge dilemma: they claim to want to help disadvantaged populations but are fighting against giving those groups more educational options. This dilemma is only magnified by the hypocrisy of candidates who had the privilege to exercise school choice for their own families actively seeking to stop private school choice programs that give the less fortunate the ability to do the same.

It’s great politicians have the freedom and ability to attend private schools and send their kids to private schools. We are happy for each of them. But it’s far from progressive to exercise school choice for your own politically powerful families while fighting against extending those options to poor families who desperately need educational options.

Corey A. DeAngelis and Tommy Schultz

Corey DeAngelis is the director of school choice at Reason Foundation and an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute. Tommy Schultz is the national communications director at the American Federation for Children.