Pennsylvania Senate hopeful John Fetterman (D.) opposes vouchers that let children in failing public school districts attend private and charter schools. But the progressive champion, who lives in one of Pennsylvania’s worst performing school districts, sends his kids to an elite prep school.
Fetterman’s kids attend the Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh, where parents pay up to $34,250 for a "dynamic" learning environment and an "innovative" approach to teaching. They would otherwise go to schools in Woodland Hills School District, where graduation rates are far below the state average. The local elementary school that serves Fetterman’s town of Braddock is in the bottom 15 percent of the state in academic performance. Fetterman and his wife Gisele have sent at least one of their three kids to Winchester Thurston for the past seven years. A 2018 news article mentioned that Fetterman sends his kids to a private school in Pittsburgh, though the school was not identified. Gisele Fetterman has been a "WT parent" since at least 2015. Last year, Winchester Thurston praised Gisele, a "WT Mom," for her help on an art project.
Fetterman’s embrace of school choice for his own family opens him up to allegations of hypocrisy on several fronts. Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, has made his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz’s wealth a centerpiece of his campaign. He has also called for increased funding for public schools, though by sending his kids to private school he is diverting funds from Woodland Hills under a state funding formula that awards money to districts based on enrollment.
While sending his kids to Pennsylvania’s 11th best private school, Fetterman has publicly opposed vouchers that parents in poor-performing districts like his own could use to send their kids to private and charter schools. In 2018, he told an organization founded by Bernie Sanders supporters he opposed vouchers for families in Philadelphia on the grounds that they "[take] money away from public schools" and give it to private and charter schools. Roughly one-third of Philadelphia school kids go to charter schools because of the city’s dismal public school system.
Fetterman’s children will likely benefit academically from attending Winchester Thurston, though they will be deprived of the racial diversity Fetterman claims to embrace. Woodland Hills is 62 percent black and 25 percent white. Just 36 percent of Winchester Thurston’s students are minorities, though the school has a fully staffed "equity and inclusion" office.
Winchester Thurston has a 100 percent college acceptance rate, and an average SAT score of 1330, well above state averages. Woodland Hills, the district the Fetterman kids would otherwise attend, has just an 85 percent high school graduation rate, far below the state average. Woodland Hills has a 75 percent minority student body.
"Shame on him," said David P. Hardy, a distinguished senior fellow at the Commonwealth Foundation and co-founder of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia charter school.
"Fetterman could send his kids to [Woodland Hills], but he's got money, so he can send them somewhere else," Hardy told the Washington Free Beacon. "But the poor people there are stuck going to those schools, and he doesn't give them any way out."
Fetterman’s opposition to vouchers has won praise from teachers’ unions and is in line with the Democratic party’s national platform. But it puts him in tension with a majority of Americans who support school choice. Fifty-eight percent of Americans—and 69 percent of black voters—say they support vouchers, which have been linked to higher graduation rates. The Pennsylvania State Education Association endorsed Fetterman earlier this year, lauding him for "oppos[ing] tuition voucher programs." Fetterman touted the union’s endorsement, saying he is "a proud product of Pennsylvania public schools."
The union in April blasted a Republican effort to provide vouchers for families in districts in the bottom 15 percent of the state. The voucher program would benefit students in districts like Woodland Hills, which has three elementary schools that fit that criteria. Wilkins Elementary STEAM Academy, the elementary school that serves Braddock, is required under a separate voucher-like program to offer scholarships to students to transfer to other public or nonpublic schools because its math and reading test scores are in the bottom 15 percent of the state.
It is unclear whether all three of Fetterman’s kids—who range in age from 7 to 12 years old—attend Winchester Thurston. It is also unclear how Fetterman has covered tuition there. Winchester Thurston participates in the state program, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, that offers scholarships to students in poor-performing districts. Fetterman’s father may also help with the tuition. Fetterman lived off his dad, an insurance executive, until he was in his late 40s. Fetterman's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Fetterman has suggested that his kids go to public schools. "American history must be taught in America's public schools—the good, the bad, and the horrific," he said this year in an apparent reference to the debate over the teaching of critical race theory. "That's what @giselefetterman and I want for our kids."
Fetterman joins a long list of Democrats who publicly criticize school vouchers while sending their kids to private schools. Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.) has spoken out against school vouchers and charter schools but sent her daughter to a private middle school and served on the board of a private high school, the Washington Free Beacon reported. House candidate Christina Bohannan (D., Iowa) has criticized school choice while sending her daughter to a private school so she could receive a "personalized education."