Filed under: Conservatism
‘Conservatives like Lowry and Ponnuru’ supposedly uphold ‘the fiction that America has always been a land of equal opportunity for all. Liberals respond by crafting policies that they hope will bring the country into closer conformity to the ideal of equal opportunity for all. That’s one way to define the division of labor that separates our nation’s parties at this moment in our history.’ Yes, that is one way: a childish and smug way, as well as an inaccurate one. (It’s not liberalism’s deep concern for the opportunities of poor people that motivates its opposition to school choice.)
Ponnuru and Lowry offer no other examples of liberal policies that are not genuinely motivated by concern for the poor. It’s just school choice. But on what basis do Ponnuru and Lowry claim “liberalism” is opposed to school choice? Liberals are divided on school choice. There’s no good recent nationwide polling data on how many liberals support different versions of school choice, be it vouchers, charter schools, or choice between different public schools. But 75% of residents of the District of Columbia, the most Democratic district in the country, supported the federally funded school voucher program there. Robert Reich and Cory Booker have supported school voucher programs. Charter and magnet schools are strongly supported by liberal constituencies.
More important, to the extent that liberals oppose school choice, I guarantee you that “concern for the opportunities of poor people” is precisely what motivates them. Opponents of school choice argue that giving parents the opportunity to exit schools leads to higher-attention, wealthier parents with more social capital taking their kids out, while the poorest kids with the least social capital, precisely the kids who need the most help, are left behind in collapsing, defunded institutions. (There is ample evidence to support this claim from existing charter-school programs.) They also argue that voucher programs always end up underfunded, and effectively become a way for the middle and upper classes to wash their hands of educating lower-class kids. They argue that only a sense of social solidarity can produce schools that effectively serve both rich and poor kids, and that programs for poor people are poor programs.
These arguments may be wrong, they may be unrealistic, they may be naive, and they may derive much of their political strength from a coincidence with the interests of teachers’ unions. Or they may be right. But they are absolutely motivated by concern for the opportunities of poor people. It is as offensive for Ponnuru and Lowry to state otherwise as it would be for me to state that their support for school choice is not motivated by concern for the opportunities of poor people, and to imply that they are really just interested in getting taxpayer-funded private school tuition support for middle-class Republican voters.
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