Obama: School choice for me, but not for thee

The Daily Camera published my comments on Obama’s school choice hypocrisy couple weeks ago:

“We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them,” said President-elect Barack Obama to a teachers’ union convention. But when it comes to his own daughter’s education, he and Michelle Obama have walked away.

Obama’s daughters will attend the Sidwell Friends School, which the Washington Post describes as “a rigorous school where many of Washington’s most prominent and moneyed families have sent their children.” “The Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now,” said Michelle Obama’s spokeswoman.

But when ABC News asked him about giving inner-city parents a similar choice to opt out of government-run schools, Obama said “it would be overall bad for most kids.” Most kids, but not his own daughters, of course.

Instead, Obama wants to “foster competition within the public school system.” That is, he wants to maintain what is effectively a government monopoly on schools. If this would be good, then why not do the same for, say, cars? As Neal McCluskey, the author of Feds in the Classroom suggests: “While we’re at it, let’s not allow multiple auto producers; let’s just foster competition within General Motors and see how that works.”

[print version (pdf)]

(Thanks to the Advocates for Self Government for the post title.)

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3 Comments

Filed under public policy

3 responses to “Obama: School choice for me, but not for thee

  1. nub

    Presumably this is about vouchers, although you never mention the word. Framing it in terms of “choice” seems a bit weasely. Everyone has a choice whether or not to send their kids to public schools, if they can afford the alternatives. The question, when it comes to vouchers, is what makes the most sense for the most people. But you’ve completely misrepresented or ignored any actual arguments against vouchers in favor of an emotional appeal wrapped up in a strawman you call hypocrisy. As far as I can tell, the only way Obama would be a hypocrite is if he secretly approved of vouchers despite his public stance to the contrary, which I find rather unlikely. To go and label him – and, by extension, anyone who sends their kids to private school while opposing vouchers – a hypocrite is to use a false equivalence to strike a low blow.

    Sorry if that comes across as harsh – it’s meant to be constructive criticism. If you really want to change minds, I suggest you spend less time on the libertarian/free market framing and more on the actual pros and cons. All that “school choice” and “government-run schools” language just seems like dog whistle stuff that appeals mainly to the already-converted.

    Lastly, regarding your last paragraph, I’m guessing that most Americans probably think of education less as a commodity and more as a fundamental right. So I’m not sure how much that car analogy is going to resonate. It may in fact have the opposite effect.

    Brian replies:
    I thought about mentioning the type of school choice policy I preferred, but I was limited by a word count, and it would have interrupted the flow. In any case, I much prefer tax credits to vouchers. And I mean real tax credits, not “refundable tax credits,” which people get regardless of whether they owe any taxes. These are neither refunds or are they a tax credit.

    A voucher is a government check used to pay for a school. Many people don’t like these b/c it means that tax dollars go to funding all kinds of schools they might not want. Many religious, I suppose. A reasonable objection. Then again, tax dollars are used to fund thousands of crappy schools already, but that’s a different issue. Vouchers also come w/ strings attached, in that government can put restrictions on the types of schools that are eligible, which in the end could make all schools government controlled, or influenced, if they want voucher money.

    With tax credits, it’s your money. You write the check to the school or scholarship fund. The same strings attached concern could apply here, too, but historically it’s been less than an issue. Here’s a reference, and a shorter one that was in USA Today magazine.

    Nub writes: “All that “school choice” and “government-run schools” language just seems like dog whistle stuff that appeals mainly to the already-converted.”

    “School choice.” What would you call the issue? It’s often better to label the policy in terms of what you’re for, rather than what you’re against. Sure, I’d like government to cease its involvement in education and schools all together. But I can imagine that the first response to a “government school abolition” movement is that it promotes some kind of elitism. It doesn’t, but why dig that hole for yourself?

    “Government-run schools.” We’ve discussed this before, I’m sure. Do you prefer “public schools”? To me, it doesn’t get at the heart of the issue. Your local grocery store is public. Anyone can walk in. Yet, many “public” schools are not open to students who do not live in the right place.

    Rights. I bet many people do think of education as a “fundamental right.” I disagree with this view, and it’s worth addressing. My guess is that it’s implicit in many people’s thinking, and lends inherent support to government funding of schools. Although it does not follow from this that government should fund schools. It would make more sense to subsidize the students so they can pick the school.

    Anyway, as I see it, rights are freedoms to act, like the right of self-defense or free speech. Rights are not entitlements to or moral claims on what other people produce. If you have a right to what others produce, and if the purpose of government is to protect rights, then it’s a crime for the producers to refrain from providing those in need. This sounds like a type of slavery to me, as producers can become rights violators (criminals?) when they gain the ability to produce something that is a “right,” but then mind their own business, or merely trade with other people on a voluntary basis.

  2. nub

    Presumably this is about vouchers, although you never mention the word. Framing it in terms of “choice” seems a bit weasely. Everyone has a choice whether or not to send their kids to public schools, if they can afford the alternatives. The question, when it comes to vouchers, is what makes the most sense for the most people. But you’ve completely misrepresented or ignored any actual arguments against vouchers in favor of an emotional appeal wrapped up in a strawman you call hypocrisy. As far as I can tell, the only way Obama would be a hypocrite is if he secretly approved of vouchers despite his public stance to the contrary, which I find rather unlikely. To go and label him – and, by extension, anyone who sends their kids to private school while opposing vouchers – a hypocrite is to use a false equivalence to strike a low blow.

    Sorry if that comes across as harsh – it’s meant to be constructive criticism. If you really want to change minds, I suggest you spend less time on the libertarian/free market framing and more on the actual pros and cons. All that “school choice” and “government-run schools” language just seems like dog whistle stuff that appeals mainly to the already-converted.

    Lastly, regarding your last paragraph, I’m guessing that most Americans probably think of education less as a commodity and more as a fundamental right. So I’m not sure how much that car analogy is going to resonate. It may in fact have the opposite effect.

    Brian replies:
    I thought about mentioning the type of school choice policy I preferred, but I was limited by a word count, and it would have interrupted the flow. In any case, I much prefer tax credits to vouchers. And I mean real tax credits, not “refundable tax credits,” which people get regardless of whether they owe any taxes. These are neither refunds or are they a tax credit.

    A voucher is a government check used to pay for a school. Many people don’t like these b/c it means that tax dollars go to funding all kinds of schools they might not want. Many religious, I suppose. A reasonable objection. Then again, tax dollars are used to fund thousands of crappy schools already, but that’s a different issue. Vouchers also come w/ strings attached, in that government can put restrictions on the types of schools that are eligible, which in the end could make all schools government controlled, or influenced, if they want voucher money.

    With tax credits, it’s your money. You write the check to the school or scholarship fund. The same strings attached concern could apply here, too, but historically it’s been less than an issue. Here’s a reference, and a shorter one that was in USA Today magazine.

    Nub writes: “All that “school choice” and “government-run schools” language just seems like dog whistle stuff that appeals mainly to the already-converted.”

    “School choice.” What would you call the issue? It’s often better to label the policy in terms of what you’re for, rather than what you’re against. Sure, I’d like government to cease its involvement in education and schools all together. But I can imagine that the first response to a “government school abolition” movement is that it promotes some kind of elitism. It doesn’t, but why dig that hole for yourself?

    “Government-run schools.” We’ve discussed this before, I’m sure. Do you prefer “public schools”? To me, it doesn’t get at the heart of the issue. Your local grocery store is public. Anyone can walk in. Yet, many “public” schools are not open to students who do not live in the right place.

    Rights. I bet many people do think of education as a “fundamental right.” I disagree with this view, and it’s worth addressing. My guess is that it’s implicit in many people’s thinking, and lends inherent support to government funding of schools. Although it does not follow from this that government should fund schools. It would make more sense to subsidize the students so they can pick the school.

    Anyway, as I see it, rights are freedoms to act, like the right of self-defense or free speech. Rights are not entitlements to or moral claims on what other people produce. If you have a right to what others produce, and if the purpose of government is to protect rights, then it’s a crime for the producers to refrain from providing those in need. This sounds like a type of slavery to me, as producers can become rights violators (criminals?) when they gain the ability to produce something that is a “right,” but then mind their own business, or merely trade with other people on a voluntary basis.

  3. Pingback: Medicare head Donald Berwick: rationing for thee, not for me | Independence Institute: Patient Power

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