Presidential choice

Patrick Gibbons

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen to send his children to Sidwell Friends School, the elite private school where Bill Clinton sent his daughter during his presidency – a school that approaches $30,000 per year in tuition.

Education expert (and parental choice advocate) Dr. Jay P. Greene wrote:

"Supporters of choice try to use the fact that anti-voucher presidents choose private schools rather than DC public schools as evidence of hypocrisy.  I don't buy that argument. There is no more hypocrisy in saying that public dollars should only go to public schools even if I choose to use my own dollars at private schools than in saying that public dollars shouldn't go to think tanks even if I donate to them with my private dollars."

This is true – there is no hypocrisy in spending your own money to send your children to private school while also opposing government-funded vouchers.  The President of the United States, who receives a salary of $400,000 a year, must pay for his personal expenses, such as food, clothing and even education for his children.

Meanwhile, Greg Forester suggests that the hypocrisy can be found elsewhere:

"[I] totally believe Obama opposes school choice because he thinks government shouldn't be in the business of ensuring that rich and poor alike have equal access to valuable goods and services, and I eagerly look forward to seeing this principle applied to his positions on welfare, health care, housing, labor policy, the environment, economic bailouts, entitlements, farm subsidies, taxes …"

An excellent point – school vouchers give poor- and middle-class families the same opportunities currently available to only the wealthiest Americans (although we note that the bulk of Nevada's private schools have tuitions that average well below $10,000 a year – most are even less expensive than public schools).

 If Obama and other policymakers support welfare programs such as food stamps, why do they oppose school vouchers?

Opponents might ask us about our apparent hypocrisy. Why do free-market advocates support a socialist policy like vouchers?  Answer: Vouchers introduce market forces into a government-run monopoly in which the education establishment is not currently held accountable for educating our children.  Basically, vouchers move education in the right direction.

At any rate, the Education Intelligence Agency blogs about an additional irony in Obama's choice of Sidwell Friends, writing:

"A better question is why the Obamas would choose Sidwell Friends, a school sorely lacking in many of the elements we are told are required for educational excellence. It would be a shame if the Obama kids were to miss out on all these benefits…"

The blog goes on to describe how Sidwell Friends lacks collective bargaining agreements between the school and the teachers, how the teachers lack a defined benefits plan, how there are no local enrollment rules.  In addition, there is a low level of diversity (in comparison with the D.C. public schools), there are religious undertones (it is a Quaker school), and it features an 18th Century educational framework (yes, the school focuses on the basics, like phonics, handwriting, grammar, fractions, geometry and American history – all by the fourth grade).

That's another great point. The union always claims that all those teacher benefits also benefit the children. Does Obama's choice of Sidwell Friends, a school lacking unionized benefits, suggest Obama doesn't buy those arguments? What about Sidwell Friends' school philosophy, which focuses on fundamental principles of learning, in contrast to the educrats' preferred diversity/multiculturalism, watch-a-movie, feel-good-about-yourself-and-don't-worry-about-getting-the-answer-right philosophy?

If it is good for Obama's children to go to a union-free, religious-oriented private school with a traditional education philosophy, then why is it bad to expand that same opportunity to average Americans?