Jacques: Warren's costly school plan prioritizes unions over kids

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Elizabeth Warren stopped by Chicago Tuesday to stand in solidarity with striking public school teachers, just one day after she released her whopper of an education plan. That strike has left 300,000 children out of school the past week.

“I believe it is time in America to make a new investment in public education,” the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate told the crowd. 

Elizabeth Warren called for people to support striking Chicago teachers after joining educators picketing outside an elementary school on Tuesday.

And boy, she’s not kidding. Warren is proposing to hike spending on K-12 education by $800 billion. More on why that’s a bad idea in a minute.

What the plan proposes also deserves close scrutiny. Warren picked the right crowd to visit, as teachers unions might as well have penned her proposal, which posted to Medium Monday.

Warren boasts of how she started out as a special education teacher in New Jersey. She uses this to claim an understanding of the needs of teachers, how they should be treated more as professionals and why school choice is harming traditional public schools. 

Her first order of business? Firing education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos is a lightning rod for unions, given her support of public charter schools and private choice options — and her belief that parents know what’s best for their children. 

Warren plans to “fix” that. 

While she’s got a host of new ways to involve the government in schools, Warren’s mostly got charter schools in her cross-hairs. She aims to end federal grant dollars that go toward starting new charters (or helping excellent ones expand), and she also says she’ll find a way to “ban” for-profit charter schools. For-profit charters are frequently the target of Democrats, even though these schools often post strong outcomes for students.

This comes at a time when charter schools in Michigan are under attack. The State Board of Education earlier this year attempted to block federal grant funds the state had already won from going toward deserving charter schools. And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cut $35 million in aid from the state’s charters, which serve majority populations of poor children, even while all other public schools will see boosts in revenue. 

Warren wasn’t always so cold toward school choice. In her 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” she observed: “Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.”

That mirrors DeVos’ defense of choice. But Warren has clearly moved beyond her well-reasoned arguments. 

Now, on to the cost of Warren’s plan. 

As DeVos told our editorial board last month, the federal government has spent $2 trillion on trying to close achievement gaps among students, yet all that spending hasn’t made “one whit” of a difference. 

Since the U.S. Department of Education was formed 40 years ago, it has grown into a behemoth that gobbles $80 billion a year, but hasn’t led to better academic results. 

Warren’s solution? Double down. 

“There is certainly no constitutional basis for the federal government to be involved in this way,” says Mary Clare Amselem, a policy analyst in the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy. “More spending on education simply has not moved the needle at all.”

Warren claims she’d pay for this plan with her “wealth tax,” which would hit families with more than $50 million. The estimated $2.75 trillion that would bring in would also fund Warren’s other freebies, such as universal childcare, free college and student debt cancellation. 

These proposals, however, constitute just a small percentage of her overall spending priorities, such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, says Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. In total, her plans would reach $50 trillion over a decade, and as Riedl says, there is no way to cover even a fraction of the cost without a heavy tax hike on the middle class.

“It’s almost unprecedented to see a candidate running on such a fiscally irresponsible plan and doing so well in the polls,” Riedl says. 

Yet even worse than the irresponsible spending, Warren's politically-charged education blueprint has the potential to harm families by limiting choices they value. 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques