One of the main reasons I am compelled to shake my rhetorical fist at progressives is their staunch opposition to freedom of choice in everything but “reproductive rights.” The chief plank of the Obama Democrats’ platform is that you are required to buy health insurance with severely limited choices, all of which must include a list of mandatory benefits. Progressives will always err on the side of one-size-fits-all federal legislation over deferring to federalism and allowing the fifty states to operate as laboratories of democracy. And finally, education is seen as government’s main imperative, a public good that can only be delivered via an incompetent national bureaucratic monopoly. Any efforts to introduce choice into the equation are militantly, selfishly and immorally opposed by the one interest that benefits from the system: the teachers’ unions.
Unions shamefully defend the education status quo because because it is a staus quo that redounds to the teachers’ benefit rather than students’. Since education is funded by taxes, teachers’ unions live at the public trough and game the system through the execrable practice of collective bargaining. They obtain lavish pensions and benefits for their members by using compulsory dues to bribe corrupt politicians in local government into enhancing their loot in exchange for political allegiance. All the while, students are a secondary or tertiary priority, if one at all. When students fall behind in public schools the last culprit in the eyes of the unions is the teachers themselves. And while the purported causes of poor student performance vary from parenting to poverty to overcrowded classrooms, the solution is always the same: more money.
Enter charter schools and the burgeoning revolution of school choice. Charter schools are publicly funded but administered outside the bonds of union control, giving schools much more latitude on personnel and curriculum decisions, as well as more autonomy over their broader mission. The left hates charter schools, ostensibly for social equity reasons, but in reality that pose is laughable. The actual reason they resist the proliferation of school choice is raw political power. Teachers’ unions are a major player in Democratic politics and they rely on expansive membership in order to extract ever more dues that then go to fill Democratic coffers. Every bit of bluster against school choice is nothing more than rank partisanship. The tragedy is not however in progressive sleight of hand regarding their motives. The tragedy is that the very constituents the left never tires of claiming it represents are the ones most hurt by efforts to constrain the growth of charter schools. From Louisiana to Brooklyn and the Bronx, minority students and their parents cherish the opportunity for a better education, and there is only one party standing in their way.