Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) says the burden should be on parents to fix public education, urging parents who want options beyond failing schools to pay for improvements and services themselves.
"If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school. Go get more resources for it," Warren said in an interview with labor giant National Education Association (NEA). "Volunteer at your public schools. Help get the teachers and school bus drivers and cafeteria workers and the custodial staff and the support staff, help get them some support so they can do the work that needs to be done. You don't like the building? You think it's old and decaying? Then get out there and push to get a new one."
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Warren's comments are at odds with her past support for school vouchers for children in failing schools, a position she advanced before she became an elected official. She has received more than $2.5 million in campaign donations from the education industry throughout her political career, including nearly $70,000 from the teachers' unions.
Warren's comments to the NEA follow a recent revelation that the senator sent her son to a private school rather than public. Though Warren's daughter attended public school for the entirety of her K-12 education, her son attended multiple elite private schools beginning in fifth grade.
Warren has received backlash from some minority voters over her opposition to charter schools. Pro-school choice activists interrupted her recent campaign event in Atlanta, telling the Massachusetts senator, "We want the same choice for our kids that you had for your kids."
Warren sent her son to the Haverford School, an all-boys college preparatory school in suburban Philadelphia, for six years. Her son graduated from the school, which now costs $39,500 a year, in 1994. Warren's son also attended the Kirby Hall School, a private college preparatory school in Austin, Texas, as a fifth grader in 1986.
The Warren campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
During the NEA interview, Warren touted her opposition to a 2016 ballot initiative that would have expanded charter schools in Massachusetts. While Warren sides with the nation's most powerful teachers' unions on the issue of school choice, charter schools in urban Massachusetts have proved extremely successful, benefiting the same disadvantaged groups Warren claims to fight for.
A 2015 study by Stanford University's CREDO institute found that urban charter schools "provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading" that are "larger by significant amounts for black, Hispanic, low-income, and special education students." A Brookings Institution study of charter schools in Massachusetts mirrored these findings. Researchers found that urban charter schools in the state produce educational outcomes "far better than those of the traditional public schools that charter students would otherwise attend."
Despite the positive impact of charter schools on Warren's urban constituents, the Massachusetts senator was proud to detail her opposition to charter school expansion in the state, saying she "fought on the side of the educators" to "beat back a well-funded effort." Though Warren claimed the ballot initiative aimed to "lift the cap on charter schools and expand the number of charters across the state," the initiative only impacted low-performing districts that hit their caps for charter school attendees.
Warren previously supported a voucher system that would allow parents to choose the school their children could attend. The then-Harvard professor wrote in her book, The Two-Income Trap, that "with fully funded vouchers, parents of all income levels could send their children—and the accompanying financial support—to the schools of their choice." Warren references the book in her NEA interview, claiming she "argued in that book that what we need to do is find another school assignment process where every dollar stays in the public schools." This assessment fails to recognize tuition-free charter schools as a public option, a common union characterization.
Warren reversed her support for a voucher system when she launched her presidential campaign, releasing an education plan that calls for the "aggressive oversight" of charter schools and vows to eliminate federal funding for charter school expansion. Warren's plan aligns her with the nation's most powerful teachers' unions, an alliance she reaffirmed in the NEA interview.
"For me, having a union, a strong union, making sure that it is easy to join a union, that unions have more power when they negotiate, is a central part in both making sure that we have strong public schools, and frankly, making sure that we have a strong economy overall," Warren said.