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The Bottom Line Democrats Are Gaslighting American Parents About School Vouchers

Originally published at New York Post

Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott voiced his support for providing private school vouchers and charter school opportunities for students in Texas. The move would allow parents increased choice in where and how their children are educated.

Abbott is not alone in advocating for increased parental empowerment: 32 states and the District of Columbia provide parents with school vouchers, educational savings plans and tax-credit scholarships.

Unsurprisingly, the Democratic response to Abbott’s move was as swift as it was condemning: “Abbott is for defunding our public schools” tweeted Beto O’Rourke, who’s challenging Abbott for governor of Texas. “I’m for fully funding our kids’ classrooms and fully supporting parents, teachers and students.”

Defunding public schools — even “stealing money” from them — is how the far-left and teachers’ unions term any attempt to offer parents more choice around education. For them, it’s about money and power, not children and high-quality learning.

Contrary to O’Rourke’s rhetoric, keeping good kids in bad schools offers little support for either parents or students. Instead, it supports the key Democratic power base — the teachers’ unions. This is the cohort that gets Democrats elected, keeps bad teachers in classrooms and leaves kids to languish in failing schools nationwide.

As the unions see it, shifting money from public schools to charter or private schools is a Republican ploy to weaken public schooling, despite strong data to the contrary. As for the money — it belongs to taxpayers, who are ready and waiting to help educate our children.

Defunding public schools — even “stealing money” from them — is how the far-left and teachers’ unions term any attempt to offer parents more choice around education.

Keri D. Ingraham

Deploying public funds for private (and semi-private) endeavors is hardly without precedent. Consider food stamps. The government uses taxpayer money to provide people with vouchers, in essence, to buy groceries at the stores of their choice.

Not dissimilar are Head Start preschool programs and college Pell Grants, which provide funding for parents and students to select the schools of their liking. Yet, such thinking is verboten in K-12 education. Why?

A majority of studies reveal that more — not less — choice and competition improves education outcomes. Students opting for private or charter schools benefit, as do those who remain in traditional public classrooms, which then have more resources available to them. What’s more, competition is also cost-effective. Public schools spend an average of $16,000 per year per student, while private schools spend $12,000 per student per year on average — a 25% savings.

Much like teachers’ union leaders, O’Rourke uses fear to persuade voters to oppose pro-school-choice candidates and legislation. And they do so to the detriment of their own children, communities and country. As they frame choice as punishing the poor and harming public schooling, activists slyly convince parents that those already in private school with greater financial means will benefit from school choice and not them.

Polling data from earlier this year revealed that 68% of Democrats and 67% of Independents say they would support school choice policy — an increase of nine and seven percentage points, respectively over the past two years. Couple that with 82% of Republican support (an increase of 7% since 2020) and the voter tide is clearly turning in favor of increased choice. Covid-era closures are certainly partially to blame; as are “woke” academic agendas promoting radical ideologies over essential reading, writing and arithmetic.

As prices rise and inflation surges, voters are scrambling to afford even the most basic necessities. Having witnessed our government pump billions into shrinking public school systems — with student enrollment down 3% between 2020 and 2021, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics — a majority of voters no longer view public schools as helpless victims imperiled by market competition. With their eyes now opened, voters across party lines are ready for a change that increases parental control and improves educational outcomes.

While some still insist that private and charter schools “steal” money from public education, it’s time to put this narrative to rest. We’ve been “stealing” the future of our children and nation for far too long.

Keri D. Ingraham

Senior Fellow and Director, American Center for Transforming Education
Dr. Keri D. Ingraham is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Director of the Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education. She is also a Senior Fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. Dr. Ingraham has been a guest on Fox News multiple times. Her articles have been published by The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Federalist, Real Clear Education, The Washington Times, National Review, The American Spectator, Washington Examiner, The Epoch Times, The Seattle Times, Puget Sound Business Journal, The Daily Signal, and a host of other media outlets. Fox News has featured her work. Prior to joining Discovery Institute, she spent nearly two decades leading within the field of education as a national consultant, requested conference speaker, head of school, virtual and hybrid academy director, administrator, classroom teacher, and athletic coach. She authored multiple chapters for the book, Sketching a New Conservative Education Agenda, published in 2022. In 2019, she was invited as a contributing author for the book, MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education and co-authored “From Gutenberg to 5G.” Dr. Ingraham was awarded the George W. Selig Doctoral Fellowship in 2013. The following year she received the “World Changer in the Field of Education” award from Regent University.
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