March 5, 2006

Congressman John Conyers: Another Liberal Pursues School Choice For His Kids While Blocking Needy Children From Having The Same Opportunities

In an editorial entitled Choice for me, not for you, Michael Franc has yet another example of the hypocrisy of liberal Democrats regarding school choice:

The latest ethics flap in Washington exploded last week...It involves veteran Michigan Democrat and would-be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers. Two former staffers allege a pattern of corruption by Conyers, self-proclaimed "Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus," including forcing them to work on several state and local political campaigns while on his congressional payroll and allowing a senior staff counsel to conduct her private law practice out of his office.

Also among the charges is that Conyers required his staff to care for his two young boys, including providing tutoring services to Conyers' elder son while he attended a posh private school in Bloomfield Hills. The school "Little John" Conyers attends is the Cranbrook School. According to its Web site, tuition at Cranbrook runs a cool $17,880 for grades 1-5, $19,280 for middle school, and $21,730 for high school. Parents who send their kids to board at Cranbrook must cough up more than $30,000.

Yet Conyers is a longstanding opponent of any form of school choice for low-income children. At a "Stand Up for Public Schools" rally a few years back, Conyers decried educational choice as a "scheme" which "will only harm our public schools" and pointed instead to the sort of "real" school reforms drawn from the educational unions' playbook – teacher training, reduced class size, and school construction. "It is vital," he said then, "for parents, educators, and community leaders to join together to strengthen Detroit’s public schools."

Unless, of course, you can afford to send your child to The Cranbrook School.

A lengthy review of school choice issues was recently posted here. Included in that posting is this Clint Bolick quote about Hillary Clinton's recent comments on school choice and the Clinton's years-ago school choice decision for the benefit of their daughter Chelsea:

We now have nearly two decades of experience with school choice. We do not see white supremacy schools. We do not see jihadist schools. We do not see religious strife or rioting in the streets. What we do see is children who never before have gotten a break learning in safe environments chosen by their parents. And we see the power to choose providing a catalyst for public schools to improve. School choice is the tide that lifts all boats.

Never was there greater testimony to the importance of school choice than Mrs. Clinton herself. When the President and Mrs. Clinton moved into the White House, they were offered something that no other resident of the nation's capitol had: the choice of any public school for their daughter. They decided that sending their daughter to a defective school system was too great a sacrifice, and chose a private school instead. That led Wisconsin Rep. Polly Williams, the sponsor of Milwaukee's school choice program, to quip that "Bill and Hillary Clinton should not be the only people who live in public housing who get to send their kids to private schools."

I think school choice is the ultimate domestic policy issue and an aggressive pursuit of school choice policies will transform domestic political parties and domestic politics in this country. It is the one issue that can unite Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, as well as the economically needy and well off - as I saw last night at a dinner party of people who themselves covered the entire political spectrum. Why? Because what happens to your child is the ultimate personal issue to a parent, an issue that stirs deep passion. This posting elaborates on that point:

...Education is inherently personal and inherently value laden. The key relationships in schools are those between individual teachers and individual students: If the teachers are not willingly committed and highly motivated, no centralized rule books or formulas are going to inspire peak performance…

Moreover, schooling inescapably involves judgments about truth and virtue, about what kind of person a youngster should aspire to be. Americans inevitably disagree with each other about those judgments…Today's Americans have no more chance of reaching consensus on [these] questions than of agreeing on what church (if any) we should all attend; that is why we keep the state out of controlling churches, just as we keep it out of other value-forming institutions such as publishing and journalism. The more we entrust such decisions to centralized state agencies, the more conflicts we foment. Zero-sum "culture wars" for control of coercive state monopolies make enemies of people who could otherwise be friends...

These are the reasons why parents, not educational bureaucrats and unionist teachers, should be in control of their childrens' educational decisions. It is why that control should be empowered by educational vouchers or tax credits to give parents the necessary leverage to ensure their children receive a proper education.

Why will it transform domestic politics? In addition to stirring passion among parents, we have a visibly failing status quo in America and in Rhode Island.

Why will it transform domestic politics? It will because school choice simply will succeed if given a chance. The posting continues and explains why:

Rather than continuing to use centralized government decrees to turn mediocre institutions into excellent ones, as they have been trying but failing to do for decades, the state and federal governments should be empowering individual families to transfer to schools of their own choice.

That strategy would bring three advantages that are absent from the command-and-control model embodied in NCLB. First, it would allow parents to rescue their children from dysfunctional schools immediately…Second, it would allow families to pick schools that are compatible with their own philosophical and religious beliefs instead of locking them into zero-sum conflicts to decide which groups win power to impose their beliefs on others. Third, it would unleash the dynamic force of competition. Real accountability to customers free to go elsewhere is qualitatively different from fake accountability to government agencies that can almost always be pressured into keeping the money flowing to schools that are manifestly failing.

The key locus for genuine reform is the states. Under the Constitution it is the states that have legal responsibility for education…The best contribution the national government can make is to get out of the way.

And I think Steve Laffey has found an issue that, if managed well, could get a non-RINO Republican elected to the United States Senate from Rhode Island.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I'm a liberal and I see the necessity of giving school choice a try in Rhode Island.
It's obvious that everything else has been tried and has failed for so many decades.
And it's obvious to me that for most things in life, a healthy competitive environment improves the "product", in this case, the precious commodity of a child's education and his or her chance for success in the future.
Let's not let down our children for the sake of feeling "politically correct", particularly in a world that is now truly globally competitive and where America's public schools are not desired by today's emigrants.

Terry Fagan

Posted by: Terry Fagan at March 5, 2006 3:34 PM

Mr. Hawthrone, good work once again. You are onto something.

I would just point out that school choice, as an issue by itself, does not excite the average voter. It is rather academic in nature and the press would not be interested very much.

However, presenting school choice as the SOLUTION to what excites the average voter (illegal Prov kids in their schools, taxpayer money from all over being wasted in failing Prov schools) does excite a majority of voters in this state and generate major TV/press attention. Maybe Mayor Laffey does have Kriegsplan (war plan) after all.

Sorry for the foreign language stuff, but between Lord Shedlon's "avanti" and Prince Chafee's "schadenfreude", I just felt the need to sound cultured....let me tell you it's hard for a junkman and votary like me to compete with them.

Posted by: Fred Sanford at March 5, 2006 4:30 PM

Just a few comments:

Eins - Laffey is way out in front of the school choice issue. This is indeed the type of leadership that will draw a majority of Rhode Islanders to vote for him over Herr Chafee.

Zwei - Herr Chafee is nowhere to be found on the school choice issue. Like John Conyers and the Clintons, he supports school choice for his children but not others. How charakterlos.

Drei - If Ian Lang ever gets to Cincinnati, I know a wicked beirgarten he can hit.

Posted by: oz at March 5, 2006 6:59 PM

Grundsatzdebatten im Augenblick!

piep piep

Posted by: roadrunner at March 5, 2006 8:14 PM

German is such an economical language. The following two words (der Idiot) encompass all these english translations: Fool, imbecile, moron, blockhead, dingbat, dufus, dork, ninny, and numskull.

However, if one wants to use a modifier with idiot, such as "blithering" idiot or "complete" idiot, then der Vollidiot would be in order.

Lackey translates as "der Lakai".
Horseshoe as "das Hufeisen"

I think we have covered the essential argot pertaining to the Chafee campaign. There will be no further lessons necessary.

Posted by: bountyhunter at March 5, 2006 11:30 PM

Wow, we might have tripped over something that most of us from either side can agree on.

"Choice" already exists under NCLB. The tricky part continues to be "supply". A majority of our districts only have one "brand" from Middle School on up.

Perhaps the Laffe proposal, if tweaked a little, could start to answer the supply problem.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at March 6, 2006 5:57 AM


I tip my hat to your pitch-perfect post.

Posted by: oz at March 6, 2006 7:32 AM

The mentality of the "clerisy" (couldn't resist more of this German stuff) helps to explain the difficulty school choice programs have had in making a real impact anywhere outside of Milwaukee and a couple of other places. It is people with the background of Lincoln Chafee who typically could give a hoot about school choice. As Oz says, by virtue of breeding they have choice so why should they care about the minority kid who doesn't?

Union people of all stripes are vehemently against school choice, as is the byzantine educational bureacracy. So there goes the support among democrats (with the exception of one Mr. Oliviera, I am glad to see).

Your typical middle class and UMC suburbanites have no passion whatsoever for the school choice issue - and may even have a negative bias because of worries about infiltration of "undesirables" into their beloved and high-taxed school districts.

So what constituencies does that leave? Inner city minorities and hard-core libertarians. Neither of these groups are at the top of any GOP direct mailing lists, as far as I know.

Thus, Laffey's making of school choice as an issue speaks more of his priniciples than anything else, because it is not really a highly marketable issue as far as the majority of voters are concerned.

The projo (and other) grandstanding accusations are more-than-ridiculous in that why would a politician go to all these lengths over an issue that the majority of the voting public either doesn't care about or is very much against?

It is not is a burning desire to make our nation better irrespective of what the doubters say.

Posted by: bountyhunter at March 6, 2006 8:58 AM