Amid Coronavirus, Democratic Party Takes Aim at School Choice

Push to eliminate vouchers unsettles parents, especially low-income minorities

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August 24, 2020

The Democratic Party's 2020 education platform includes the elimination of private school vouchers, which are popular with many parents—especially blacks and Latinos—amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the official 2020 Democratic Party Platform, the party argues that private school vouchers "divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system." Yet a poll commissioned by the American Federation for Children found that most voters—including 82 percent of Latinos and 68 percent of blacks—support using taxpayer dollars to send their children to a school that "best serves their needs," public or private. COVID-19 has exacerbated the divide between the Democratic platform and public opinion: In an August poll of Oklahoma parents, 63 percent said that they should be allowed to send their children, along with their tax dollars, to the school of their choice if public schools do not open.

The explicit call to eliminate vouchers goes further than the party's previous platforms. While the Democratic Party's official platform in 2012 supported strengthening public schools to lower the dropout rate of minority and low-income students, it did not attack private school vouchers, which 57 percent of Latinos and 69 percent of black Americans support, according to two polls.

School choice advocates have criticized the new platform, saying that it hurts those it is intended to help. Kayla Svedin, the founder of the school choice group Empowered Arizona Families, told the Washington Free Beacon that Democrats like vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris need to realize the importance of voucher programs.

"Access to school choice options should not be a partisan issue," Svedin said. "As a fellow woman of color, I would hope that Kamala Harris would open her eyes to just how important it is to help our students succeed. School choice programs empower families in our low income and minority communities to meet their children's educational needs by providing access to resources they would otherwise be unable to attain."

The elimination of voucher options could create new headaches for parents amid the coronavirus pandemic. Virginia Walden Ford, the champion of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, told the Free Beacon that now is the time for school choice because parents are terrified that their only public option will be shut down. She also noted that scores of children have joined online schools that specialize in virtual learning after having bad experiences with public online classrooms.

"What scares parents is not having information and thinking that they only have one choice," Walden Ford said. "Parents have been teaching their children at home so they know now that there's another option."