Biden, Pelosi, other top Dems sent kids to private school but oppose school choice
School choice has become a hot-button issue after the COVID-19 lockdowns shined a light on the scope of the government’s authority and gave parents a window into public school curricula.
Many private schools stayed open while public school systems across the country closed in-person learning for entire semesters, even years, and remote learning lifted the veil on what public school kids are actually learning – and not learning.
Private schools across the country reported seeing a significant uptick in enrollment over the past two years, while public school enrollment declined on a national scale. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, total public school enrollment dropped 3% nationwide, erasing a decade of steady growth, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, total enrollment in independent private schools saw a net growth of 1.7% between 2020 and 2022, NPR reported in December.
Private school choice, or providing all families with alternatives to the public schools they’re zoned for, can be expanded through multiple avenues at the state level, including school voucher programs, tax-credit scholarship programs, individual tuition tax credit programs and deductions, and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Charter schools, magnet schools and homeschooling are also forms of school choice programs.
Proponents of school choice, specifically private school choice, argue it gives families regardless of socioeconomic status more freedom in deciding their child’s education. Opponents like teachers’ unions and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argue against the privatization of schools and take issue with using public funds for private school tuition.
Dozens of elected Democrats at the state and national level, who have publicly criticized or actively opposed private school choice measures, have personally benefited in some way from private schooling.
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Corey A. DeAngelis, national director of research at the American Federation for Children and executive director at Educational Freedom Institute, argues that private school choice should be available for every student, not just the wealthy.
“When these politicians get called out on this hypocrisy, they’ll often try to defend themselves by saying that other families do indeed already have school choice since they can simply just choose to pay for private school tuition out of pocket if they want,” DeAngelis told TOU Digital in a statement.
“To them, apparently, only rich people should have school choice. Their argument is even worse than that, because the taxpayer is already funding the education of the child. That same money should follow the child to the education provider that best meets their needs.”
“Low-income families are not forced to take their food stamp dollars to residentially assigned government grocery stores,” he continued. “Instead, families can take their taxpayer-funded food stamp dollars to the grocery store of their choosing. We should apply the same logic to K-12 education and fund students, not systems.”
TOU Digital has highlighted some of the most notable private school choice opponents who either attended private school, sent their children to private school, or both.
President Biden attended the Archmere Academy, a posh Roman Catholic prep school in Claymont, Delaware, and he sent both of his sons, Beau and Hunter Biden, to attend the same private school that currently charges $30,900 in tuition.
Biden, whose 2020 presidential campaign was largely funded by teachers’ unions, repeatedly voiced opposition to private school vouchers on the campaign trail, saying it would destroy the public school system. He has said that students should have a choice among public schools, public charter schools, and public magnet schools, but that public money should not be used to fund private school tuition.
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Vice President Kamala Harris has two stepchildren with husband Doug Emhoff, and both kids attended the Wildwood School in Los Angeles, a private school that currently costs $44,975 a year.
The National Education Association (NEA) teachers’ union hailed Harris in 2020 after she was announced as Biden’s running mate, calling the Biden-Harris ticket the “Dream Team” for the public school system. “She investigates for-profit charters and votes against vouchers,” the NEA gushed in a news release at the time.
As senator, Harris voted against Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Education secretary in 2017, citing DeVos’ support for private school vouchers as the reason.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attended the Institute of Notre Dame, a private all-girls Catholic high school in Baltimore, and she revealed in her 2008 memoir “Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters,” that she sent Paul Jr., her only son of five children, to attend Episcopal High School, an elite Virginia boarding school that currently costs $64,900 a year in tuition.
Pelosi praised her son’s school for playing “an important part” in her son’s life and for providing an “excellent education” during a 2003 speech in which she accepted the school’s Alan C. Phillips “Integrity In Action” award.
But Pelosi strongly opposes private school choice and has repeatedly voted against vouchers and scholarship programs for low-income children to attend private school.
“Private school vouchers are a bad idea,” the congresswoman said in a 2008 press release, opposing Republican efforts “to drain much-needed money away from cash-strapped public schools.”
In 2015, Pelosi voted against the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Reauthorization Act, which provided private school vouchers for low-income children in Washington, D.C.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat whose candidacy and recall fight was largely funded by teachers’ unions, attended a private school in San Francisco for several years during his early childhood.
He also outraged parents in October 2020 when he sent his four kids back to in-person learning at a private school in Sacramento County, while public schools in the county remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newsom had previously ordered all schools, including private, to close on April 1, 2020, for the rest of the school year. He was later sued over the private school closures, and in a win for school choice advocates more than a year later, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July 2021 that the governor violated the fundamental “right of parents to control their children’s education and to choose their children’s educational forum.”
Newsom campaigned against private school choice when he was running for governor in 2018, promising the California Teachers Association at the time that he would fight against the Trump administration’s efforts to “privatize our public education system.”
“Vouchers and for-profit charter schools have no place in this state,” he declared in April 2018.
In 2019, Newsom controversially signed a bill into law that expanded the power of local school districts to reject new charter schools or close existing ones over fiscal or leadership concerns.
In a statement provided to TOU Digital, Newsom’s deputy communications director said the governor “worked multiple jobs to help support his family while attending school, graduating from Redwood High School, a public school in Larkspur.”
“Now, the Governor is advancing the nation’s most ambitious agenda to expand choices for parents and families – backed by a record increase of $31 billion in K-12 investments,” the statement read. “Billions for youth mental health means more choices to receive help before it’s too late; universal TK means more choices for families to get their children a head start; universal college savings accounts means more choices to plan and prepare for college; and much more.”
Newsom’s plan, however, does not address private school choice.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent her son, Alexander Warren, to the Kirby Hall School, a private prep school in Austin, Texas, where the current tuition is $18,725, DeAngelis reported for Reason magazine in 2019.
When pro-school choice advocates confronted Warren at the time about her son’s schooling, she quickly responded, “No, my children went to public schools.” Her campaign later spun her answer by saying, “Her son went to public school until fifth grade.”
Warren has strongly opposed all private school choice measures throughout her career, including vouchers and tuition tax credits, and she has called for banning for-profit charter schools and ending federal funding for the expansion of public charter schools.
“Efforts to expand the footprint of charter schools, often without even ensuring that charters are subject to the same transparency requirements and safeguards as traditional public schools, strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color,” Warren wrote in a blog post during her failed 2020 presidential campaign.
“We should stop the diversion of public dollars from traditional public schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits — which are vouchers by another name. We should fight back against the privatization, corporatization, and profiteering in our nation’s schools.”
Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke attended Woodberry Forest School, a private, all-male boarding school located in Woodberry Forest, Virginia, where tuition currently costs upwards of $62,000.
In 2019, during his failed 2020 presidential bid, O’Rourke promised not to allow “a single public tax dollar to be taken out of our public school classrooms, turned into vouchers, and sent to private schools.”
“Beto opposes private school vouchers,” his campaign later told The Washington Post. “His priority will be to increase support for our public school system.”
O’Rourke, who is looking to unseat Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this November, has been recently vocal against the governor’s private school choice proposals.
“Abbott is for defunding our public schools,” O’Rourke tweeted May 9 about the governor’s proposed voucher plan.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear
Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who recently declared all charter schools – public and private – “unconstitutional,” sent both of his kids to a private elementary school in Louisville. When former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin brought up that fact during a 2019 debate, Beshear accused the then-governor of “attacking my kids.”
In 2021, Beshear vetoed a bill establishing “Education Opportunity Accounts” in Kentucky that would have provided private school tuition for low- and middle-income families.
“I am vetoing House Bill 563 because it will harm public education in Kentucky by taking money away from public schools,” Beshear wrote in his veto message. “For years, the General Assembly has failed to invest in Kentucky’s public schools. House Bill 563 makes that failure even worse by draining as much as $25 million from public education – a number that may grow over the years.”
In April of this year, Beshear vetoed a charter school funding bill that would have allocated public funds for students to attend the charter school of their choosing.
“I am vetoing House Bill 9 because it diverts taxpayer funds away from our already underfunded public schools in the Commonwealth, redirecting those funds to for-profit entities running charter schools,” Beshear wrote in his veto message. “The diverted taxpayer funds will go to charter schools that have boards that are not elected by and answerable to the people and that are not required to comply with the same controls and accountability measures as traditional public schools.”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper sent his daughter, Natalie, to Saint Mary’s School, a private Episcopal prep school in Raleigh, where tuition can cost upwards of $62,000.
Cooper opposes private school vouchers, saying in a 2017 statement rated only “half true” by Politifact: “I am very concerned and have opposed vouchers because of the lack of accountability. … We really don’t know what these schools are doing or how they are performing.”
Cooper has also sought to eliminate the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides lower and middle-income students a voucher up to $4,200 to attend the school of their choice.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy
New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy sent all four of his children to Rumson Country Day School, a private school in Rumson, and two of his kids attended the Phillips Academy private prep school in Andover, Massachusetts, where the “real average cost” to attend is currently $85,000, according to the school.
Murphy, whose 2017 gubernatorial bid received more donations from teachers’ unions than any other interest group, campaigned on taking a “time out” on charter school applications.
He later clarified, “I have never been nor will I be ‘hell no’ on charters,” but according to TAPinto Newark, his administration has denied more than two thirds of the applications filed by charter schools.
Murphy was criticized in February after he blocked the expansion of New Jersey’s best-performing public charter schools in Newark despite their ballooning wait lists.
“A majority of residents in struggling cities like Newark and Camden are lower-income blacks and Hispanics, and high-quality public schools are a lifeline,” Wall Street Journal columnist Jason L. Riley wrote in March. “Anyone yapping about equity while denying underprivileged minorities access to better schools deserves to be ignored.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Illinois Democratic Gov. J. B. Pritzker attended the Milton Academy, a private boarding school in Milton, Massachusetts, that currently charges $64,800 a year, and he sent both of his children to attend Chicago private schools at Francis W. Parker School and the Latin School of Chicago.
Pritzker was confronted about his children’s schooling as it related to his opposition to private school choice during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
“Both of my kids go to private school near our home, and that actually was the major reason that we made that decision was that the schools were very close to where we live,” he said during a 2018 interview. “But I’m a believer that public schools are maybe the most important thing that we can provide for our children… I want to make sure that that everybody has an opportunity to go to a good school and that means that public schools should be much better funded.”
Pritzker has voiced opposition to private school vouchers and charter school expansion. His effort to eliminate $14 million in tax credit scholarships for low-income students in the Invest in Kids program failed last year, and state lawmakers instead preserved the program for another year.
“I’m just trying to point out that before you want to fund public schools, to divert money that could have been used for public schools, to a tax credit for private schools, it seems to me is backward,” he said in the 2018 interview.
The governor also supports a moratorium on charter school expansion, arguing in 2018 that any funding available for education should go toward the public school system.
Rep. Elaine Luria
U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., attended a private school near Burmingham, Alabama, sent her daughter to a private school in Virginia and even served as president of Tidewater Montessori High School, a now-defunct private school in Virginia.
In January, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Luria’s role at the Montessori school after the Washington Free Beacon reported in December that Luria, who served as president of the school from at least 2015 to 2019 did not list the position on her 2018 and 2019 financial disclosure forms.
Luria campaigned against school choice programs prior to her narrow defeat of Republican Rep. Scott Taylor in 2018.
“I stand strongly against voucher systems,” she said during a Democratic candidate forum. “I stand strongly against any type of charter schools that would remove funding from our public education, because the public education that we provide across America is the foundation of our future generation.”
Luria’s office said in a statement to TOU Digital that the congresswoman “supports public charter schools and recently delivered $900,000 in funding to An Achievable Dream Academy in Virginia Beach to expand educational opportunities in Coastal Virginia.”
That funding went toward two public schools in Virginia Beach.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., sent her kids to Sagemont, a small private school in Broward County, but she opposes private school vouchers and for-profit charter schools.
Wasserman Schultz opposed the state’s first voucher program in 1999, declaring, “This is the day that will go down in the annals of Florida history as the day we abandoned the public schools and the day that we abandoned, more importantly, our children,” according to a 2021 report by EdChoice.
In 2015, Wasserman Schultz voted against the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Reauthorization Act, which provided private school vouchers for low-income children in Washington, D.C.
She also opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to “defund, undercut and privatize public education” and called Trump’s then-education secretary, Betsy DeVos, “an enemy of the public schools.”
When asked whether Wasserman Schultz’s position is that only wealthy students should be able to attend private school, her office responded, “The premise of your question is incorrect, please do not repeat in your reporting.”
The two largest teachers’ unions in the country almost exclusively donate to Democratic campaigns. So far in 2022, 98.61% of campaign contributions from the National Education Association has gone to Democrats, while 99.95% of campaign contributions from the American Federation of Teachers has gone to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” website.
The NEA and AFT did not respond to TOU Digital’s requests for clarification on why the Democrats they support are OK with private school choice for themselves but not others.
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“Many of the same people who had educational opportunities for their own families fight against school choice for others,” DeAngelis said in his statement provided to TOU Digital. “Joe Biden, for example, sent his kids to private school and went to private school himself. I don’t blame him for that. I’m glad his family had those opportunities. All families should seek out the best educational options for their children. But they shouldn’t fight against school choice for others.”
“Choice is the norm with higher education, pre-K, and just about every other industry,” he added. “But choice threatens an entrenched special interest – the teachers union monopoly – when it comes to the in-between years of K-12 education. And that entrenched special interest disproportionately contributes political funding to Democrats.”