By Jennifer Wagner
To my friends in the K-12 school choice movement currently losing your minds because Democrats who once supported charters and even private school choice no longer do: Welcome to politics.
Let me break it down for you.
Donald Trump is the President.
Democrats don’t like Donald Trump.
Donald Trump likes school choice.
Democrats don’t like anything Donald Trump likes.
Democrats — at least the ones who want to occupy the White House — no longer like school choice.
(Added political bonus: Donald Trump asked billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his Secretary of Education, which created a whole bunch more headlines about school choice.)
I want to be clear, as many others have been, that Democratic presidential candidates are pretending not to like school choice at a time when actual Democrats who live out here in Real America think school choice is a good thing. From the most recent Education Next poll:
Now, in 2019, Democratic approval for low-income vouchers has climbed to 52%, with disapproval receding to 37%. In short, criticism by Democratic elites has not stopped grassroots support from increasing by 10 percentage points and opposition from declining by 6 percentage points since 2016.
But if you thought politics was all about the will of the people, I have some unfortunate news for you: Politicians want to win, and winning is about contrast.
Did Elizabeth Warren used to be for private school choice? Yes, she absolutely, unequivocally did:
Did she just declare war on charter schools and choice generally this week?
Yup. Totally happened.
Does this make any sense at all?
Not one bit.
But that’s politics for you.
Whether it’s Warren or Bernie Sanders or Cory Booker, who used to be an unabashed choice champion, you’re not likely to find Democratic candidates publicly endorsing anything that Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos has ever said was a good idea.
At least not until Nov. 4, 2020.
Does it make me mad the way it’s making some of my fellow advocates foam at the mouth? Nah. I’m a recovering Democratic hack who’s written plenty of talking points I didn’t personally believe to help candidates get elected. I don’t do that kind of work any more, but I don’t begrudge those who do or the political process they’re engaged in. After all, you can’t govern if you don’t win.
Of course, it helps to know that school choice — in its many forms — is here to stay, and it’s going to grow regardless of pithy one-liners on the campaign trail.
While it’s tempting to fact-check every statement from every candidate, it’s probably not going to change their messaging, and we’re just taking time and energy away from our actual mission: providing options to families looking for the best place or way to educate their kids.
Instead of hitting back with cries of hypocrisy, let’s hit back by standing up for the people who still need us most. We don’t have to swing at every pitch because we’re actually changing the way the game is played.
Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.