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Tipsheet

Five Democrats Who Hate School Choice, Unless It’s for Themselves

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

In recent years, Republican lawmakers have taken the lead to promote school choice policies, which empowers parents to select the best education for their children. In some states, these policies include Education Savings Accounts, that allows parents to access the state’s per-pupil spending amount for their kids. Parents can then use these funds on education expenses of their choice, such as tutoring, textbooks, or private school tuition. 

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Many Democrats oppose ESAs and other similar measures that ensure that families have school choice. However, many notable Democrats either attended private schools themselves or sent their children to private schools as opposed to the public schools available in their area. From Democratic governors to our current president, here’s five Dems who choose private education over public and push for policies that will not give parents across the country the same opportunity for their kids.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D)

Democrat Gov. Katie Hobbs assumed office after she was declared winner of Arizona's gubernatorial race nearly a week after the midterm elections. Throughout Hobbs’ campaign, while she was still Arizona’s secretary of state, she ran on a platform that was anti-school choice, despite the fact that she attended private Catholic schools throughout her upbringing.

During her campaign, Hobbs released an education plan called “A Prepared Arizona,” which cracked down on the state’s school voucher program. The state’s school voucher program, pushed forward by then-Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, was so popular among parents that the state Department of Education extended its deadline last year. The program allowed families who qualified to spend their child’s state-funded education money on approved expenses, including private school tuition.

Hobbs, along with other opponents of the school choice system, tried to overturn Ducey’s plan. But, they did not garner enough signatures to pause the program and place it on the general election ballot for 2024, which Townhall covered.

“Too often, Republicans have completely disregarded public opinion in an effort to defund our public schools. At every turn, they have moved to expand school vouchers without common-sense measures of accountability, with the clear intent to eventually do away with our local public schools,” Hobbs claimed in her education plan during her campaign.

According to Glendale-based KTAR News, Hobbs’ budget proposal called for a repeal of Ducey’s school choice expansion program. In an interview with Fox News, Hobbs claimed that her administration is not calling for a repeal of the entire program, but the “universal expansion” part. And, Hobbs doubled-down on her stance against giving parents the power to spend state-funded money on private schools, despite Shannon Bream pointing out that Hobbs credits her own private school education with being an important part of her life experience. 

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“Why shouldn’t all students have a chance at what you said was so important in your own life?” Bream asked. 

“Look, I grew up in a working class family. This was well before any of this public assistance for private school existed and my parents made that choice. I begged them to send me to public school,” Hobbs claimed. “What I want is for every student in the state of Arizona, no matter where they live, to have access to high quality public education. And, with this universal voucher system that’s not happening.”

“But, if their public school is failing, ‘no’ to giving them a chance to go somewhere else, like you did?” Bream pressed.

“The schools are failing because we are failing to invest in them, they’re being starved of resources,” Hobbs claimed. "Regardless of your philosophy on whether taxpayer dollars should go to public or private schools, this is going to bankrupt our state.” 

However, Deseret News pointed out that other states like Utah may follow Arizona’s lead when it comes to school choice. 

Not to mention, Hobbs explained in her interview with Fox News that she seeks to invest $40 million in college education for illegal aliens in the state. 

“They deserve the opportunity in the country that they call home,” she said.

California Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D)

Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) attended the Institute of Notre Dame, which was a private all-girls Catholic high school in Baltimore, Maryland that shuttered after COVID-19 lockdowns. And, she sent her only son, Paul Jr., to Episcopal High School, a boarding school in Virginia that currently costs over $65,000 per year, according to the school’s website

Over the years, Pelosi has credited her son’s elite private boarding school for playing an important role in his upbringing. And, in 2003, Pelosi accepted an “Integrity in Action” award from the school, where she described its education as “excellent” numerous times and said that it prepares students with the “power to achieve the beauty of [their] dreams.” (via Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi):

“As the mother of Paul Pelosi Jr., Class of ’87, I am personally delighted to be back at Episcopal, a school which played an important part in my son’s life. He sends all of you his regards.

Episcopal is special because you have one of the oldest high school honor codes in the nation. Your excellent education includes class lessons in integrity and honor.

[...]

"Students of Episcopal—Know thy power.

"And as you go forward to make your mark on the world, do so in the confidence that Episcopal has given you an excellent education and the power to achieve the beauty of your dreams.

"It has been said that young people are our messengers to the future, a future we will never see. The message which you will take from Episcopal is one of values, knowledge and integrity. I hope that your companions along the way will be imagination and passion.”

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Despite sending her child to Episcopal, Pelosi has a long track record of opposing initiatives that would give families a choice to send their child to a school that best fits their needs, public or private. According to Fox News, in 2008, Pelosi claimed that “private school vouchers are a bad idea,” and described it as Republican efforts “to drain much-needed money away from cash-strapped public schools.” 

According to Catholic Vote, when House Republicans implemented Washington, D.C.’s school voucher program in 2011, Pelosi described it as an “ideological” scheme to “privatize public education in the District of Columbia.” However, The Daily Signal pointed out in a 2011 report that students who participated in the program and used a voucher to attend private school had a 91 percent graduation rate. At the time, the D.C. public school graduation rate stood at around 55 percent. And, in 2015, Pelosi voted against the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Reauthorization Act, which provided private school vouchers to low-income children in the District of Columbia. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D)

“Vouchers and for-profit charter schools have no place in this state,” Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom said in April 2018 during his campaign for the California gubernatorial race. In the same interview, Newsom promised to push back on the Trump administration’s efforts to “privatize our public education system.”

Despite being adamantly anti-school choice, Newsom himself attended a Catholic private school in San Francisco for many years, according to SF Gate, and attended Santa Clara University, a private school. In addition, he sent his children to private schools that reopened in 2020 while the majority of public schools were still closed due to the pandemic.

Shortly after entering office, Newsom signed a bill into law that expanded the power of local school districts to reject new charter schools and close existing ones, according to EdSource. The bill, pushed by teachers unions, allowed "high quality" charter schools to stay, but gave school boards and county offices of education the ability to consider the potential financial impact of creating new charter schools as a factor in deciding against it.

In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom ordered all schools, public and private, to shutter for the remainder of the school year. But, in the fall, he sent his four children back to in-person learning at a private school in Sacramento County while public schools all across the state remained closed, according to a report from October 2020 (via Politico):

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Newsom’s children attend a private school in Sacramento County that has a hybrid schedule that alternates remote and in-person education before it will return full-time next month, according to a source. POLITICO is not naming the school for privacy reasons.

“They’re phasing back into school and we are phasing out of our very challenging distance learning that we’ve been doing, so many parents are doing up and down the state,” Newsom said Friday when asked about his own children’s education.

Sacramento County schools are allowed to open classrooms under Newsom’s reopening system. But the county’s large public school districts — including San Juan Unified, which serves Newsom’s neighborhood — have yet to do so.

[...]

The Newsom children’s return to school reinforces concerns from lawmakers that families who can afford private schools have a jumpstart, further widening the achievement gap. CTA this summer criticized the governor for allowing private schools to seek waivers to reopen — which nearly all private schools did.

The admission that his own children are back in classrooms could ramp up pressure on Newsom to do more to reopen schools. As each day goes by with low-income public school children struggling with distance learning, expect Newsom’s personal situation to become a high-profile example of the educational inequities during coronavirus.

A lawsuit ensued over Newsom forcing private schools to shutter during the pandemic. And in 2021, a federal appeals court ruled that the governor “overstepped his authority in denying private-school parents control over their children’s education,” Fox News reported. 

"California’s forced closure of their private schools implicates a right that has long been considered fundamental under the applicable caselaw — the right of parents to control their children’s education and to choose their children’s educational forum," Judge Daniel Collins wrote in the decision.

In 2021, Newsom faced, and won, a recall election. Reportedly, his recall right was largely funded by teachers unions that rally against school choice and pushed to keep schools closed during the pandemic, which had a lasting devastating impact on America's children.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D)

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) sent her son, Alexander Warren, to Kirby Hall School, a private school in Austin Texas. According to school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis, Kirby Hall costs around $18,000 per year and boasts that its student-teacher ratio is 5 to 1, whereas many public schools have a ratio three times greater, sometimes more. 

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“People who can afford it also exercise choice by moving to communities with good public schools, as Warren appears to have done,” DeAngelis wrote in 2019 for the New York Post. “Warren’s family’s educational situation is vivid proof of the need for school choice. In the same year, one child went to private, the other went to public. One size does not fit all.”

However, Warren herself has a long track record of opposing school choice policies, including ending federal funding for public charter schools. During a Democratic presidential debate, Warren even said “money for public schools should stay in public schools, not go anywhere else.”

On the 2020 campaign trail, pro-school-choice advocates confronted Warren about sending her son to private school. She denied it, saying: “No, my children went to public schools.” 

Warren’s campaign later said that “her son went to public school until fifth grade,” according to Fox News.

In a blog post during her failed presidential campaign, Warren said she believes that “every kid in America should have the same access to a high-quality public education - no matter where they live, the color of their skin, or how much money their parents make.” 

“We have a responsibility to provide great neighborhood schools for every student,” she continued. “We should stop the diversion of public dollars from traditional public schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits - which are vouchers by another name. We should fight back against the privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation’s schools. I did that when I opposed a ballot question in Massachusetts to raise the cap on the number of charter schools[.]”

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Warren’s education plan specifically called for “end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools,” a ban on for-profit charter schools, and to “condemn the diversion of funding public schools to private ones.” Warren ended up suspending her presidential campaign in March 2020.

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden attended Archmere Academy, a private, Catholic school in Claymont, Delaware. Both his sons, Beau and Hunter, attended Claymont. According to the school’s website, tuition is currently $32,000.

On the 2020 presidential campaign trail, Biden, like Warren, was vocal about his opposition to school vouchers, claiming that it would tear apart America’s public schools. 

On the campaign trail, Biden said in remarks in South Carolina that he is “not a charter school fan” because it takes away “money for public schools.”

In 2021, after Biden became president, The Washington Post editorial board published a piece titled “Why are unions and Democrats so opposed to giving poor children a choice in schooling?” The editorial board pointed out that the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress were preparing to do away with a scholarship program that helps “struggling” D.C. children attend schools of their choice. The Post noted that “the cost of the program is modest and well-spent[.]”

Education outlet K-12 Dive noted that the school choice movement gained momentum during the pandemic, as many students fell behind in school due to lockdowns. And despite Biden taking office, Republicans at the state level have been able to move ahead with school choice policies that put students first. 

“School choice programs continue to proliferate during the Biden Era,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told the outlet. “It helps that President Biden and his team haven’t made much effort to fight the expansion of private school choice — though they are doing damage to public charter schools via their regulatory authority.” 

“The big factor is what happens at the state level,” Petrilli added, explaining that “and in red states there’s little stopping the expansion of parental choice, especially as Republicans look to become the ‘party of parents,’ or so they say.” 

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This month, Biden “accidentally endorsed” school choice when he shared a tweet attacking Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (FL). 

“I think every kid, in every zip code, in every state should have access to every education opportunity possible,” Biden wrote.

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