(Guest post by Greg Forster)
The arguments against a school choice program imposed on the states by the federal government, including by indirect means, remain as strong as they ever were, and we now stand to lose more from such a move than we would have three years ago, when it would have been merely a disaster rather than a catastrophe.
When the president decided to make the reopening of schools a culture-war football, no doubt with his own reelection in mind and obviously caring nothing about what will serve students well – or even what would be a tactically smart way to increase the chances that schools do reopen – a more skilled politician than Betsy DeVos might have been able to find a way to keep her job without beclowning herself. The threat to withhold federal funds from districts that didn’t reopen was obviously empty. Congress has appropriated the funds, and in spite of Arne Duncan’s best efforts, the secretary of education is not the dictator of U.S. schools. Look how much trouble the administration got into by attempting very briefly to hold up congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine, and in that case you had far fewer people watching (at least in the U.S.!), and you didn’t have one of the nation’s largest and strongest special-interest coalitions on the other side.
I don’t apportion DeVos a huge share of blame for having stumbled in this regard – she’s kept her head down and done good work for much longer than most high officials in this administration. That she has been demonized by all the right people for doing good policy work far outweighs this misstep.
But the new gesture in the direction of turning this flub into the springboard for a federal school choice program, if taken seriously, would be a significant danger to the school choice movement. Let’s hope this is just an inartful way of confusing the headline-writers long enough to make the story go away and not a serious initiative.
Imposing choice on states that don’t want it, including by the constitutional equivalent of crawling in through the air ducts, is a bad idea any time. To do it in the middle of an explosive culture-war meltdown involving everything from how much risk of disease we’re willing to tolerate for our children to how we handle the legacy of our greatest national sins . . . well, words fail me to describe the catastrophic loss of legitimacy the movement would suffer.
The arrogant child-progressives who have taken over the big ed-reform foundations are not the only people who need a copy of Political Science for Ed Reform Dummies.