July 18, 2023
Have you heard the outrageous story of what happened recently in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital? Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-Pa.), elected in 2022, had campaigned on school choice for tens of thousands of children, mostly minorities, who are forced to attend failing public schools in places like Philadelphia.
“It’s what I believe,” Shapiro, then state attorney general, assured voters as he ran for governor. Last month on a national Fox News broadcast, Shapiro was unequivocal in his support for school choice because “every child of God” deserves “a quality education.”
But there’s a force far more powerful in politics than Shapiro’s convictions, such as they are. And that force is the teachers unions. They put on a full-court press to stop the roughly 10,000 vouchers for the poorest kids in Pennsylvania’s worst school districts even though the state budget bill gave billions more for the public schools. It didn’t matter that this voucher program comprised less than 0.5% of state spending. The union brass commanded Democrats to vote no on even a single penny going to schools that work.
In the end, Shapiro did a full flip-flop. He vetoed his own promise. He might as well have declared that black lives don’t matter.
Shapiro has presidential ambitions — so he figures he needs the teachers unions behind him. But if he can’t face down Randi Weingarten, how is he ever going to stand up to bullies like China’s President Xi Jinping or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin?
This story isn’t just about Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in the Tar Heel State because the legislature wanted to fund vouchers for kids to go to the best schools possible. Egads!
In Arizona, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs wants to defund a school choice program that is already serving tens of thousands of kids, most of whom are Hispanic, with proven results of better performance and higher test scores. Why would she kill a program that is working? The teachers unions want the money and the kids under their control.
In New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, charter schools are flourishing. They are alternatives to public schools but are still regulated by the state. They are oversubscribed because parents want to choose the best school for their kids. Now, the Democrats want to put a cap on the charter schools because the teachers unions want to warehouse the kids in public schools where a majority of the kids can’t read or do math at grade-level proficiency. In other words, many of the public schools are worse than mediocre. And it’s not for lack of money. New York spends more than $20,000 per child in public schools.
Did I mention that in nearly every one of these cases across the country, the Democrats blocking private and Catholic school options went to private schools themselves? Or they send their kids to private schools. But poor black kids aren’t allowed that same opportunity? These are hypocrites with a capital H.
There’s a cruel historic irony here. Sixty years ago this summer, Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood before the doors of schools to prevent black children from attending the schools with white children. He was trying to preserve the stain of segregation.
Today, Democrats are employing the same tactic to keep minority kids from attending excellent schools. Why? They say that school choice will hurt public schools or cause more segregation.
Wrong on both counts. Monopolies are always bad for consumers and competition improves service. Education choice requires public schools to compete. Would you get good and friendly service if there were only one restaurant in town?
Instead of draining public schools of money, studies show that per-pupil funding rises when some kids take advantage of vouchers to attend alternative schools. Charter and Catholic schools tend to be, in most cases, more racially diverse than inner-city public schools.
I’m a parent of five boys, so I know that each of my kids has different skills, interests, behavior issues and attention spans. To warehouse them all in the same schoolroom is madness. Schools should be tailored toward the kids and serve their interests — not those of the $1 trillion a year public-school-industrial complex.
More importantly, as an economist, my biggest worry about America’s future is what happens when kids are graduating without being able to read their diplomas and with no useful skills. There are hundreds of schools around the country where not a single child can pass a basic math or reading test.
That’s an economic, civil rights and national security tragedy. Shame on Democratic leaders, and some Republicans, too, for putting their own political ambitions ahead of our nation’s children.