Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

School Choice for Me, but Not for Thee

March 5th, 2007 · 11 Comments

Via my friend Chuck in comments below, I see a school choice blog linking to Clint Bolick’s WSJ op-ed last week on Dem candidates’ (ahem) ambivalence on the virtues of private schooling. Short version: All four Democratic presidential candidates oppose school choice, with Barack Obama having gone so far as to call vouchers a force for “social Darwinism.” All four send their own kids to private schools.

Tags: Academia



11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Minipundit // Mar 5, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    If they aren’t benefiting from a voucher plan, I don’t see what’s hypocritical about this. If their argument is that state resources should not be used to subsidize private schools, then there should be nothing wrong with using private resources to pay for private school tuition.

  • 2 Michael B Sullivan // Mar 5, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Yeah, it’s not prima facia hypocritical.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t take a lot of work to see, if not hypocrisy, then some tension in this position. I’m going to go ahead and assume that they aren’t sending their kids to private school in a noble attempt to save valuable tax dollars for the children of people who can’t afford to go to private schools.

    (I’m going to assume that because, based on my own experience with going to private schools throughout my educational career, nobody thinks that.)

    So they’re sending their kids to private school because they don’t like the quality of public schools in their area.

    Now, okay, sure, they believe that vouchers will destroy public schools and they think that the best way to help kids is to improve public schools, not destroy them. Sure. That’s fine. But they are saying, “Until we fix public schools, YOU poor/middle class folks can suffer through them, but WE upper class folks won’t.”

    Not hypocritical, not indefensible, but… perhaps not quite the persona that they’re trying to project.

  • 3 Azael // Mar 5, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    This is just bizarro, Julian. Read up on the definition of hypocritical.

    My lord.

  • 4 Greg Newburn // Mar 5, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Where does Julian charge these 4 with “hypocrisy.” The title of the post is absolutely correct, whether or not the act is hypocritical. The candidates want school choice for themselves, while denying it (at least de facto denying it) to others. I don’t see Julian’s mistake.

  • 5 Azael // Mar 5, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    Did he update the post? I could have sworn I saw “hypocrisy” where I now see “(ahem) ambivalence”. Oh well, maybe my eyes are getting too old.

  • 6 Reality Man // Mar 6, 2007 at 12:35 am

    Don’t vouchers tend to only cover enough to go to parochial schools? You’re probably not going to send your kid to Andover or Groton on vouchers. Instead, they’ll go to the private institutions that aren’t really all that better than public schools in educating kids (in the case of private conservative religious schools, they fare worse than public schools) while giving kids weird sexual hangups. If we massively funded vouchers to the point we had to drastically cut military spending, maybe the hypocrisy charge would be more apt.

  • 7 c // Mar 6, 2007 at 8:05 am


    In the context of US politics, the Democrats are clearly the egalitarian party. They are worried about inequality and are especially worried about systems that perpetuate inequality by foisting it on children who, by definition, are not the authors of their own circumstances.

    So when egalitarians make vigorous use of an opt-out option while doing nothing to make their chosen option more available to other people, they are behaving in a fashion that can be characterized as inegalitarian. This leaves them open to charges of hypocrisy. And yes, I realize that their position is about vouchers in particular, not private schools in general.

    But isn’t it the egalitarian perspective that takes a sort of realist position on choices and note the fact that we are all free to buy a given good means little if only a very few of us have the resources to do so? In the case of education, it is arguable that real choices are out of reach of those who need them most. The politicians who profess to show the most concern for the poor should be the first ones to press to establish their effective right to do what’s best for their children. But it’s the opposite that obtains, whence the charges of hypocrisy.

  • 8 Michael B Sullivan // Mar 6, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Reality Man:

    Everything happens at the margins. If we gave out vouchers worth, say, $3000 per year, then obviously they wouldn’t cover the, what $15,000-$20,000 per year that elite prep schools charge. But there is a whole class of people who would like to send their kids to elite prep schools, and can cover some of the cost, but not all of it. So those are people who would be able to afford elite schools, given a voucher, but can not afford it without a voucher.

    Obviously, the higher the dollar value of the voucher, the bigger this group would be… but it’s a mistake to look only at people who can’t afford to spend any of their own money on their children’s schooling.

    There are many things about vouchers that I find troubling, but this ain’t one of them.

  • 9 Reality Man // Mar 6, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Good point, Michael B Sullivan. I hadn’t thought of that. Do any voucher programs work like that? I really don’t know much about the details.

  • 10 Michael B Sullivan // Mar 6, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Do any voucher programs work like what? Do you mean, do any of them allow you to cover part of the cost of a school with your own money, and part with the voucher?

    My impression is that all proposed voucher systems work that way, including the Utah system which is actually going into effect.

  • 11 D // Mar 8, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Actually, many voucher plans have not allowed parents to supplement the voucher with their own funds. This is one aspect of the way in which most voucher plans–the few that we’ve had in this country–have been set up to fail.

    As for Reality Man’s comments, they have little to do with reality. There is a real lack of conclusive data on the subject, but it’s hard to do much worse than this country’s worst public schools. Moreover–and this is born out by research–the crucial advantage in say, an inner-city Catholic school is not so much educational in the sense of student achievement as defined by standardized test scores, as it is in the middle-class cultural habits that these schools are better at inculcating. Catholic schools help give inner-city kids certain massive cultural advantages. Any responsible discussion of school choice has to include this element.