Jeb Bush’s narrow understanding of ‘choice’

Updated
 
Jeb Bush's narrow understanding of 'choice'
Jeb Bush's narrow understanding of 'choice'

The right appears to be a little worked up today about a movie star who champions public education, despite sending his own kids to private schools. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), one of the nation’s leading proponents of private-school vouchers, caused a bit of a stir with this tweet.

For the record, I don’t care about movie stars’ private lives and have no interest in where they send their kids to school. And if Matt Damon wants to defend himself against Jeb Bush’s criticism, that’s up to him.

Of greater interest to me is the underlying Republican argument: why should a wealthy movie star be able to send his kids to a private school, while far-less-wealthy families lack the same “choice”?

At first blush, this might sound like a compelling point, but scratch the surface a little and the argument runs into trouble.

At a certain level, the argument itself is far from the usual script, isn’t it? When it comes to “school choice” – a poll-tested, Frank Luntz-approved euphemism for vouchers – it’s folks on the right saying they’re the ones looking out for struggling families. It’s as if everyone is playing a class-warfare drama, but took each other’s lines – conservatives like Jeb Bush and others declare, “It’s not fair that working people can’t choose the same private schools as movie stars and other rich people.”

And if that sounds jarring to you, there’s a good reason.

If folks on the left argue, “It’s not fair that working people can’t choose the same quality, affordable health care as rich people,” the right condemns the argument as socialism.

If folks on the left argue, “It’s not fair that working people can’t choose to have the same access to safe, affordable housing as rich people,” the right condemns the argument as socialism.

If folks on the left argue, “It’s not fair that working people can’t choose to have the same access to reliable transportation as rich people,” the right condemns the argument as socialism.

If folks on the left argue, “It’s not fair that working people can’t choose to have the same quality nutrition as rich people,” the right condemns the argument as socialism.

But when schools are the topic of conversation, conservatives claim the high ground – they may celebrate income inequality as part of a competitive free market, and may not lose any sleep over struggling Americans lacking access to health care, housing, transportation, and food, but if you deny poor kids a voucher to pay private-school tuition, you’re obviously a heartless monster.

The point that conservatives are reluctant to acknowledge here is helping expand educational opportunities for working families isn’t exactly their top goal – if it were their top goal, they wouldn’t be so eager to, among other things, cut federal funding for schools and make it harder for young people to get college loans.

What is their top goal is undermining teachers’ unions and privatizing the nation’s education system. That’s why they want struggling Americans to be able to “choose” to get subsidized private-school tuition, but not choose to get subsidized health care coverage.

Jeb Bush and School Vouchers

Jeb Bush's narrow understanding of 'choice'

Updated