School Choice & Democratic Candadidates

Because of the media attention Betsy DeVos has received recently, many now equate school choice ideas with a Republican perspective. But before the Trump-DeVos era, considering a variety of educational options wasn’t considered a particularly conservative idea. In fact, we’ve written a few blogs on presidential views from both parties.

So, in the spirit of the Labor Day weekend ahead, a time many candidates have historically thrown rallies and kicked-off campaigns, we’ll take a look at some opinions of Democratic presidential candidates who have commented on education issues in the past.

Elizabeth Warren: 

Warren’s first campaign event drew thousands, focused on tackling corruption, making structural economic change, and protecting American democracy.

While she has not mentioned it on the campaign trail, in the past Elizabeth Warren described her concern for school districts and touted the value of school vouchers. Speaking of home-buying habits of Americans, she stated:

They’re not buying new houses and they’re not buying bigger houses. Let me tell you what I think they’re buying and why they’re spending so much on it. They’re trying to buy schools. The public school system has failed middle-class families, especially anywhere near metropolitan areas... today’s family shops school district, school district, school district. And the problem is they’re paying a real premium for that. Here’s a place where you work out ahead, Nicholas. It turns out that cost in housing has risen more than twice as fast for families with children as for households with no children. They shop in a much narrower range of housing, and the prices are being driven up because of those school districts.

Commenting on her concerns, writers for the WSJ wondered, “But the Warren thesis suggests that the failure of public education is among the root causes of the crisis… will she be making this case on the campaign trail?”

In her book, "The Two Income Trap," Warren also described public school vouchers as a source of parental empowerment.

Ultimately, an all-voucher system would diminish the distinction between public and private schools, as parents were able to exert more direct control over their children's schools... An all-voucher system might be a shock to the educational system, but that shakeout might be just what the system needs.

According to a recent CNN article, it seems she opposed an effort to raise charter school caps in Massachusetts, so maybe her tune has changed as she fears potential party conflict. Still, it’s undeniable that she sees the same problems and understands the potential more school opportunities provides.

Cory Booker: 

Cory Booker is well-known for supporting many forms of school choice. In a recent CNN article, reporters described the ways in which Booker had added debt forgiveness to his list of education policies to more align with others in the Democratic party, but it does not look like he will change on his ideas about more freedom in K-12 education. “‘He'll have to negotiate that," Chris Cerf (former education commissioner) said. "But I know what he believes in, and I've seen him take the heat and stick to his beliefs.’”

As you can see from these two perspectives, offering more choices for education is not simply a conservative idea. Both parties are concerned about neighborhoods, social justice, and quality education. West Wing, a fictitious television show, even attempted to illustrate this point, showing two Democratic characters arguing about whether the Democratic party should support school vouchers or not. Check it out here:

Overly-devout party affiliation and tribalism leaves no space for change or new ideas. Let’s start conversations instead of fires this year.