Obama "Open" to Privatizing Public Education
by alexmhogan, Wed Feb 20, 2008 at 05:54:44 AM EST
Barack Obama has a solid progressive legislative record, which is enough to make me think his occasional use of right-wing talking points when talking about domestic programs like social security and health-care is an electoral ploy. But then he comes out with this.
Senator Obama said this week that he is open to supporting private school vouchers if research shows they work.
"I will not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn," Mr. Obama, who has previously said he opposes vouchers, said in a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We're losing several generations of kids, and something has to be done."
Education analysts said Mr. Obama's statement is the closest they have ever seen a Democratic presidential candidate come to embracing the idea of vouchers.
Vouchers, taxpayer-funded scholarships that allow families to opt out of public school and use their government-allotted education dollars to attend a private school instead, has been a major right-wing policy objective for years. From the National Education Association:
Despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about "school choice" and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers remain an elitist strategy. From Milton Friedman's first proposals, through the tuition tax credit proposals of Ronald Reagan, through the voucher proposals on ballots in California, Colorado, and elsewhere, privatization strategies are about subsidizing tuition for students in private schools, not expanding opportunities for low-income children....In the words of political strategist, Grover Norquist, "We win just by debating school choice, because the alternative is to discuss the need to spend more money..."
Bush has been a particularly strong advocate of vouchers, pushing a federally funded voucher program on the citizens of the District of Columbia and in his 2009 budget proposal proposed $300 million for national private school vouchers.
Obama would likely argue in his defense that he is only considering vouchers, and that his openness on the issue will be popular with independents and moderates who are frustrated with the pace of change in our public schools. But as Ruy Teixeira pointed out in a survey of voters' attitudes about public schools:
Despite criticisms of its current performance, the public's views on educational reform start with strong support of the public school system--particularly as it functions for low-income students. The public wants that performance improved, starting with higher standards, and is willing to tolerate fairly strict guidelines and testing regimes to accomplish this goal...The data also indicates that the public is far more interested in implementing more accountability in public schools and providing more resources to the public school system than in moving to a voucher-based system. Indeed, vouchers tend to lose badly today when in political propositions precisely because they are perceived to be in conflict with the public's commitment to adequate resources for public schools.
In 2006, voters in the reddest of red states, Utah, delivered this message loudly when they defeated by a 62% to 38% margin, a referendum which would have confirmed a law passed by the legislature to create the most comprehensive education voucher program in the nation.
The question is why Obama, who is now the Democratic frontrunner, decided to flirt with a program that is not only unpopular with the party's base, but with the nation at large and whose biggest proponents are to be found working for the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.