School choice could destroy the Democrat party

Surviving the next decades might be an uphill struggle for the Democrat Party. This not so much, or not only, because of the strength of its opponents, but because of education options that give students the choice to attend a school other than their neighborhood public school, commonly referred to as ‘school choice’ policies. So says The Spectator’s Lewis M. Andrews. His reasoning goes as follows: only occasionally in U.S.  history does an issue surface that challenges not only the core values of a political party but the party’s working system, that is its ability to function. Now, “if any such issue has emerged in our own time, it’s clearly school choice.” Why? ‘Cause school choice “will severely reduce the Democratic Party’s election workforce, squeeze its finances and even discredit its basic philosophy”. Simple as that.

The subject of fierce debate in various state legislatures across the United States, school choice policies, especially the widespread subsidy of K-12 grade schooling in venues not run by teachers’ unions, “would deplete the enormous army of campaign workers that Democrats have come to depend upon during every election cycle.” Not a minor matter. The case of New Jersey is both emblematic and paradigmatic of these dynamics:

In the past three years, New Jersey’s largest teachers union has poured more than $15 million into its effort to reelect Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. That number dwarfs contributions made by any other group in a state long dominated by special-interest politics. But with the gubernatorial election between Murphy and Republican businessman Jack Ciattarelli appearing to tighten in its final days, the New Jersey Education Association has pulled out a weapon maybe more  potent than cash: feet on the ground.

Thousands of rank-and-file “Members for Murphy” have mounted one of the largest voter outreach campaigns by the teachers union in recent memory.

Since mid-September, local and regional NJEA units in every county have staged phones banks, mass Zoom meetings, town halls, door-to-door canvassing sessions and assorted “labor walks,” “women’s walks,” get-out-the-vote rallies and special “members of color” events.

Of some 203,000 dues-paying members of the NJEA — teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, retirees and their families — it seems most have been on the street at some point this fall, especially in the heavily Democratic north Jersey towns where turnout is the key to Murphy’s hopes.

But now school choice is changing not only American education but also American society. In a more competitive environment such as the one that is being created by the implementation of school choice and where job security depends upon an educational institution’s ability to meet the needs of local families, “many would come to regard the kind of inflexible and unproductive work rules that both the party and union once crafted together as impediments to their own success.” As a result, “both the decline in teachers’ union affiliation and the reduced value of unions to their remaining members would significantly decrease what unions could raise from annual dues, in turn decreasing how much could be passed along to left-wing candidates.”

In addition, and more importantly, school choice would finally break an intellectual stalemate that has divided the country for decades:

Increasingly, Democrats have become the voice of credentialed expertise, the party that believes social problems are best solved by subsidized professionals who have mastered the relevant academic wisdom. Democrats do not completely dismiss the traditional American governors of social progress — personal morality, faith and individual responsibility — but view them as needing to conform to the supposed wisdom of modern sociology. Republicans, for their part, also respect technological expertise, but are far more suspicious of its capacity to be manipulated for both personal and factional gain. As a result, they are inclined to support policies that rely primarily on the judgment of those who would be most impacted by them (or, in the case of minors, on their parents or guardians).

At a time when the Democrat model is under increasing attack — both for the inflationary consequences of its ever-growing costs and the post-Covid sense that expert guidance only made the pandemic worse — the successful development of a parent-run school system would have far-reaching political consequences. Should it become clear that children do best in schools that are chosen and even run by their own parents, the public would be open to rethinking the delivery of other public services, from welfare to health care.

It is interesting to note that, while teachers’ unions have fought against school choice measures for years, a November 2022  EdChoice/Morning Consult survey found that teachers overwhelmingly support policies that allow students and families to select alternatives to public schools. Also interestingly, despite unions’ efforts, school choice policies have led to a spike in private school enrollment post-pandemic, which is a stark contrast to plummeting public school enrollment numbers.

Back to the matter at hand: the real challenge for the Democrats is whether they can hold off the school choice movement long enough to replace the declining strength of their teachers’ union backbone with support from a new ally:   

With fewer teachers’ union campaign workers, smaller cuts from teachers’ union dues and a discredited philosophy that elevates credentialed elites over the wisdom of average parents, its only hope seems to be controlling environmental policy to the same extent that it once controlled K-12 schooling.

Of course it is no coincidence that President Biden’s recent Inflation Reduction Act envisions the government hiring or subsidizing 150,000 lawyers, paralegals, compliance officers and policy experts over the next decade to administer so-called “environmental justice.”

Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He is Italian and lives in the Venice area.

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