Elizabeth Warren has been dominating the headlines as of late, mainly because she’s trying to draw attention to herself ahead of a 2020 presidential run.
Among the actions that got her in the news was her criticisms of Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearings. Among those attacks on DeVos were some that centered on her advocacy of school choice.
Naturally, school choice would mean that the best schools get the most students (and thus the most federal funds to accommodate them), while failing schools would see their funding dry up. There are winners and losers among schools, but all students emerge winners.
For Warren, the fact that some (a.k.a. the worst) schools will lose funding is still a problem. “Your history of support for policies that would drain valuable taxpayer resources from our public schools and funnel those funds to unaccountable private and for-profit education operators may well disqualify you from such a central role in public education,” she told DeVos, in what almost appears to be a purposeful misunderstanding of how school choice works.
In fact, it has to be purposeful, because in her 2003 book “The Two Income Trap,” she saw school choice as a necessity. To give some context, in the book Warren (and her daughter) argue that the desire for parents to send their students to the best schools had bid up home prices in the surrounding areas of those schools, since a student’s school is currently tied to their ZIP code. Naturally, that makes it impossible for the poor to have access to those schools, because they can’t afford to live in those areas.Warren writes: “A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly. A taxpayer-funded voucher that paid the entire cost of educating a child (not just a partial subsidy) would open a range of opportunities to all children. . . . Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.” She continues “Under current voucher schemes, children who do not use the vouchers are still assigned to public schools based on their zip codes. This means that in the overwhelming majority of cases, a bureaucrat picks the child’s school, not a parent. The only way for parents to exercise any choice is to buy a different home—which is exactly how the bidding wars started.” Heck, she even acknowledges that school choice is an alternative to private education, not a cause of it. “Short of buying a new home, parents currently have only one way to escape a failing public school: Send the kids to private school. But there is another alternative, one that would keep much-needed tax dollars inside the public school system while still reaping the advantages offered by a voucher program. Local governments could enact meaningful reform by enabling parents to choose from among all the public schools in a locale, with no presumptive assignment based on neighborhood. Under a public school voucher program, parents, not bureaucrats, would have the power to pick schools for their children—and to choose which schools would get their children’s vouchers.”
Sound radical? “An all voucher or all-school choice system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shake out just might be just what the system needs,” Warren assures us. We’re inclined to agree.
It’s amazing how school choice was largely a bipartisan issue – until Donald Trump took office.
[Note: This post was authored by Matt Palumbo. Follow him on Twitter @MattPalumbo12]