School choice is already a hot button issue and it is only going to heat up during election season. Charter schools and vouchers systems have recently come under attack from the left side of the aisle leaving some pro-school choice democrats like Cory Booker to defend their position. Unfortunately for advocates of school choice, their opponents are working double-time to make sure progressives oppose charters and vouchers.
So how can pro-school choice democrats convince their peers and base that more educational options would be a win for students?
- Distance school choice from republicans
It was much easier to defend school choice when Obama was President, but since President Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos have taken office, school choice has become entangled with other Republican policy and initiatives. Progressives have to break the association that school choice has with the Trump administration. Just because Betsy DeVos likes something doesn’t make it inherently bad, however as long as that something is seen as her pet project many liberals will never support it. So, distancing the school-choice movement from Trump and DeVos is paramount. This shouldn’t be hard as the last two Democratic Presidents both supported school choice as well.
- Speak directly to millennials
Millennials are way more likely to support school choice than older generations. Millennials also skew to the left anyway. If school choice Democrats are having trouble making inroads with the Baby Boomers on education policy then they should pivot to the millennials, after all most of the Baby Boomer’s kids have already grown up. Generation-X’s kids are school now and Millennials are set to send their kids to schools in the next few years. They are the ones that this argument actually matters to.
- Explain what school choice actually is
The school choice debate has been framed by its opponents for so long that a lot of regular people don’t really know what it is. Charter schools are public schools, yet people still often refer to them as private schools and unfortunately that framing has caught on. And that isn’t the only example of people not really knowing what school choice is. If you look at survey data you see that when questions are asked using words like “charter” or “voucher” support for school choice programs are lower. However, when the question includes a definition of what those words actually mean, support is much higher. School choice advocates need to close this gap and not let their opponents simply throw buzzwords around as they have become tainted in some circles.
- Put traditional public schools on defense too
There is a reason people wanted alternatives to traditional public schools and it wasn’t because they were amazing. Some of them probably were but a large number of them were not. School choice advocates can’t sit back and play defense for charter schools without calling attention to the horrible record that public schools have, especially when it comes to black and brown students.
- Lift up the voices of school-choice students and alumni
School choice is not some evil plot for rich parents to get over on the little people like it is often framed. The best way to do that is to put a face to the students that take advantage of the options. Highlight students and alumni who are succeeding because they were able to attend a better school than they would have been able to otherwise.
School choice checks all of the boxes in terms of things liberals typically like in their political policy. There is no reason that progressives should be against children going to the school they want to. Indeed, once upon a time, such a belief made you a liberal. School choice advocates on the left need to remind their peers of their roots.