My Dear Randi,
(This is the third in a series of open letters to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. The prior missives can be seen here and here.)
It has been almost two years since my last contact with you and boy, a lot has gone down in that time! My goodness, flowing liquid water found on Mars, a 70 year-old gave birth in India, and Donald Trump became president. (I know the latter must have been particularly tough on you and your BFF, Hillary.)
But let me cut to the chase. I am worried about you! Last week you coauthored an op-ed called “School vouchers don’t just undermine public schools, they undermine our democracy.”
Oy vey! I would think that as the president of the country’s second largest teachers union, you would have been more thoughtful and done a better job of fact-checking.
First of all: the title. The title! Do you actually think that by letting some families (typically poor and minority) escape their failing, zip code-mandated, public schools, that our democracy is imperiled? What?! Letting people make their own choices is the most American and democratic of ideas. While your piece centers on the president’s plan to sink $20 billion into national vouchers, your underlying theme is that any movement away from the traditional educational arrangement – where the government not only pays for a child’s education but delivers it as well – is awful. While I concede that a federal voucher program may not be a good idea, your irrational antipathy to any kind of school choice is wrongheaded and frankly, meshuga.
You write that vouchers don’t benefit children who receive them, and later in the piece you double down by claiming that they actually “hurt student learning.” That is, to be polite, horsefeathers. EdChoice’s Greg Forster looked at 18 empirical studies of choice programs and found that 14 found of them improve student outcomes, 2 found no effect, and 2 reported a negative effect. Both negatives were from Louisiana whose voucher program is poorly designed and over-regulated. University of Arkansas researcher Patrick Wolf also found very similar positive results in a study released in March. The only “evidence” you offer is a recent study of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, and that study has been shown to be flawed in many ways.
You write that public schools have “never fully recovered from the Great Recession” and that we need to “invest” more in them. Invest more? The $670 billion we throw at public schools isn’t enough for you? According to The Literacy Project, there are currently 45 million Americans who are functionally illiterate, unable to read above a 5th grade level, and half of all adults can’t read a book at an 8th grade level. And you want to “invest” more in that archaic, one-size-fits-all 19th Century model?!
You insist that “taxpayer money should support schools that are accountable to voters….” But it is the private schools that are truly accountable. If they do a good job, people naturally flock to them. If they do poorly, they close due to a lack of business. When the traditional public schools do a bad job, what happens? You and other education traditionalists demand more money! Totally ridiculous. If a school is an Edsel, it should, well, go the way of the Edsel.
And then, near the end of the piece, you single out tax credit scholarships for special derision, asserting that in some cases “donors have been able to make a profit off the backs of taxpayers and ultimately kids.” No, this is hardly a bwahaha! moment. Tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships for kids. Eligible taxpayers can include both individuals and businesses. So your claim is, frankly, absurd. No one “makes a profit” by simply lowering their income tax bite.
(You know, if I were a nasty person I would make the case that you, old friend, are the one who is profiting off the taxpayers. Your total compensation is over $500,000 a year, much of which is taken from teachers unwillingly who are, of course, paid by the taxpayers. But, no, I won’t even bring that into the conversation.)
Btw, if you haven’t read it yet, Kevin Chavous, executive counsel for the American Foundation for Children (yeah, that’s the org that your bête noire Betsy chaired till becoming Ed Secretary), wrote a very eloquent rejoinder to your error-filled op-ed – I suggest you read it. He states that your op-ed is full of “hyperbole and outright inaccuracies.” (Perhaps “BS and lies” would be more to the point, but I won’t go there.)
Randi, I think the whole school choice movement has gotten to you. You seem to be coming apart – you’re all over the place. Within the past few years, you have become a proud member of “The Resistance” and taken positions on mandatory voting laws, free college tuition, global warming, our Syrian missile strike, and, most importantly, the perils of cheese sandwiches.
And home girl, I hate to tell you, but things aren’t looking good for you and your anti-choice pals. An impending SCOTUS decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, a religious liberty case, could kill off states’ “Blaine Amendments,” which have been used to deprive children of using public money to attend religious schools. (Maybe tell me one day why you support Pell Grants, which go to needy college students. These undergrads can use public funds to attend religious schools like Notre Dame and Brigham Young, but on a k-12 level, fuggedaboutit.)
And next year might bring even more tsuris! If the Janus v. AFSCME case, which could get to SCOTUS during the 2017-2018 session, is successful, the entire U.S. could become a right-to-work country for teachers and, in fact, all public employees, freeing them from paying forced dues to a union as a condition of employment. That would result in the unions having a lot less money to fight school choice battles. (And girlfriend, I hate to tell you, but with fewer union members, your one-percenter salary and lifestyle could take a major hit.)
In any event, you and your union will survive. But parents, children, taxpayers and teachers will thrive.
Please write me back, Randi – it has been seven years since we spent any time together and it’s about time we do lunch! On me! Looking forward!
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.