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Flashback: Elizabeth Warren once promoted school vouchers

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s main problem with President Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, was DeVos’ support for “school choice,” accomplished largely through a system of vouchers that would enable students in poor neighborhoods to go to better schools.

But Warren herself, a champion of the Democratic Party’s far left, was once an eloquent advocate of vouchers, as Powerline’s Scott Johnson pointed out Friday, citing RedState’s Joe Cunningham.

Yet during DeVos’ contentious confirmation hearings, Warren declared in a letter to DeVos that her advocacy for school choice and voucher programs should raise alarm bells for supporters of public education.

“Your history of support for policies that would drain valuable taxpayer resources from our public schools and funnel those funds to unaccountable private and for-profit education operators may well disqualify you from such a central role in public education,” Warren wrote.

But in a 2003 book that Warren co-authored with Amelia Warren Tyagi, “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke,” she advocated a “well-designed voucher system” that would rescue children from “lousy schools” or from “bankrupting” their families.

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“Any policy that loosens the ironclad relationship between location-location-location and school-school-school would eliminate the need for parents to pay an inflated price for a home just because it happens to lie within the boundaries of a desirable school district,” the authors wrote.

“A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly. A taxpayer-funded voucher that paid the entire cost of educating a child (not just a partial subsidy) would open a range of opportunities to all children.”

DeVos was confirmed Tuesday in the closest confirmation vote in Senate history, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaker.

In her book, Warren stated: “Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.”

The authors said they “recognize that the term ‘voucher’ has become a dirty word in many educational circles.”

“The reason is straightforward: The current debate over vouchers is framed as a public-versus-private rift, with vouchers denounced for draining off much-needed funds from public schools. The fear is that partial-subsidy vouchers provide a boost so that better-off parents can opt out of a failing public school system, while the other children are left behind,” they wrote.

“But the public-versus-private competition misses the central point. The problem is not vouchers; the problem is parental choice. Under current voucher schemes, children who do not use the vouchers are still assigned to public schools based on their zip codes. This means that in the overwhelming majority of cases, a bureaucrat picks the child’s school, not a parent. The only way for parents to exercise any choice is to buy a different home—which is exactly how the bidding wars started.”

Perpetuating a failing system

“The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah had a similar line of attack against DeVos this week, declaring America “seems to be going back to a place where your wealth will determine how much knowledge you can attain.”

Donald Trump announcing Betsy DeVos as his nominee for secretary of education.

Noah said if DeVos “gets to do everything she wants to, you will live in a world where even more people who do not have the means will now no longer have the opportunity to achieve the means,” noted Alexandra Desanctis in a post to the National Review blog The Corner.

But Noah missed a crucial point, Desanctis wrote, that the “system he describes is the very system we already have.”

“What’s more, it’s the system that DeVos herself is opposed to and wants to reform by expanding school choice and instituting voucher programs.”

She pointed out DeVos “has devoted much of her professional life — and millions of her dollars — to advancing the idea that one’s economic status shouldn’t dictate the education he receives.”

“Our current public-school structure perpetuates a failing system in which low-income children remain stuck in low-income neighborhoods and never obtain the type of education that would allow them to climb out of their situation,” Desanctis commented.

“The real reason that Noah and fellow progressives so staunchly oppose school choice and voucher programs as detrimental to low-income families and children — when, in fact, they are the very opposite of detrimental — is because of the left’s allegiance to teachers’ unions, which have a huge financial stake in preserving the failing public-school system exactly as it is.”

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