The Canard of School Choice

A new report from the Heritage Foundation finds that 37 percent of Congressional representatives and 45 percent of Senators send their children to private school, about four times the rate of the general population. Republican and Democratic lawmakers appear to choose private school for their children at almost exactly the same rate. Yet Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are singled out for ridicule because according to Heritage, their personal choices contradict their staunch anti-voucher positions.

There’s a strong argument to be made for the idea that, whenever possible, families should send their children to public school. When wealthy, educated parents are invested in their communities’ public school systems, schools improve in myriad small ways. Recognizing the value of that investment is why so many politicians who envision a country with first-rate public schools oppose voucher programs that encourage families to disengage entirely from the public system. While vouchers provide an out for a few lucky kids with active parents, they are less than band-aids for the system at large — they are disincentives for broad-based change. When it comes to our schools, systemic change requires investing in the system.

It’s fair to point out when politicians advocate this position, yet fail to trust the public schools with their own children’s educations. They make a public commitment to our schools, but not a private one. But that’s still more justice-minded than what many conservatives support, which amounts to steady divestment from the system that educates almost 90 percent of American kids.

2 thoughts on “The Canard of School Choice

  1. klein's tiny left nut

    Dana,

    You say “public” in the first paragraph whn I think you mean private.

    I, too, am a big supporter of public schools. However, living in the District, I have ended up sending my son to a private school. As a parent you have to sometimes put aside the ideology and do what is best for your particular child. There are kids who do fine in the public school system here, but by and large it’s pretty broken. It’s unfortunate and terribly expensive, but I didn’t see it working for my kid.

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  2. Dana

    Good catch, my dad noticed the same mistake. I’ve corrected.

    I totally understand that individual families make these choices outside of ideology, and certainly have read a lot of depressing stuff about the D.C. schools. I take up the question more as an exercise in political theory than anything else. It’s clear to me that one step toward a more just system is more people investing time and care into the system. But I understand that when a child is at stake, parents don’t always have that luxury.

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