Biden on Education

I’ve been around DC politics for a long time and was surprised that Obama chose Joe Biden for his running mate for many reasons, but in the education arena… I thought…umm…maybe since he wasn’t around in the late 90’s (I was!!) he didn’t know that Biden was supportive of voucher legislation for awhile (until the teachers unions got to him). His attitude as seen in his speech below shows how confused the Democrats are about vouchers and school choice. They seem to KNOW what is right and can even articulate it but chicken out when it’s time to DO the right thing about education reform. I find it truly fascinating that the Dems didn’t check this out or they would have known this would come up…someone needs to do their homework! John McCain has been a consistent supporter of school choice and will continue to support a parent’s right to choose the best possible educational environment for their children.Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE):

“I have come to the belief that the constitutional issues involved [with school choice] are not as clear cut as opponents have argued. While lower courts have ruled that vouchers used in private religious schools violate the first amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion, the Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the question (that decision was made by the supreme court in June of 2002 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a monumental decision, upholding the Cleveland school voucher program as constitutional…G.) In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that State tuition tax credits for private religious school tuition are perfectly constitutional, and the Supreme Court has ruled that Pell grants–vouchers for college students–can be used in private religious colleges without violating the Constitution. … Even some liberal constitutional scholars have noted that vouchers to parents and children may be constitutional.

Even if vouchers were to take money away from the public schools–and I should point out that not all voucher proposals do–that does not in and of itself mean that public schools will be harmed.

When you have an area of the country–and most often here we are talking about inner cities–where the public schools are abysmal or dysfunctional or not working and where most of the children have no way out, it is legitimate to ask what would happen to the public schools with increased competition from private schools and what would happen to the quality of education for the children who live there.” Source: Congressional Record, Sept 30, 97, PS 10192

Certainly makes me concerned about the future of our children when potential leaders sounds confused on the matter. As JSM has repeatedly said…every American student should have access to a quality education. We have to look outside the box and make the changes necessary for that to happen. He gets it!!

Guestblogger Virginia Walden Ford, Education Policy Adviser, McCain08

17 Replies to “Biden on Education”

  1. Are you really latching onto a position that Biden held 11 years ago and complaining that he has switched positions? News flash…people change their minds in the face of new information. Oh wait, GWB doesn’t listen to new information, so he never changes his mind.

    When he made that speech, vouchers were very theoretical. Years later, they haven’t gained much traction. Unless I’m mistake, vouchers don’t really work b/c there aren’t enough schools out there that are able to take them, and new private schools haven’t really been popping up with the hope of getting voucher $$.

    Charter schools, the other means of providing school choice, have been much more successful, probably b/c they don’t have a goal of making $$ off the education of inner city kids (oh wait, there are a few and they’re not all that successful).

  2. Someone who does not know how to use the internet, could not possibly “get” 21st century education.

  3. When I read that Eduwonk would host representatives of the two campaigns to blog during the other’s convention, I was excited. I was looking forward to the opportunity to hear what the two campaigns have to say about the education system and the best way to improve it. But if this post points to what the this will look like, I think we will all be sorely disappointed.

    If I wanted to hear Sens. McCain or Obama’s talking points, linking campaign figures to statements made years ago, I could watch CNN. I don’t. I want to hear what, exactly and concretely, the candidates plan to do with respect to education.

    So, Ms. Ford, tell me, what is Sen. John McCain’s education policy? Surely it is more than an unflagging belief in vouchers and a reliance on calling the other side names over positions they took 11 years ago?

  4. Ms. Ford wrote: “We have to look outside the box and make the changes necessary for that to happen. He gets it!!”

    I don’t know what that even means. Please explain to me where “outside the box” we should look and what changes will be “necessary for that happen.” Once that’s clear, I might be clearer on what Sen. McCain “gets.”

  5. I don’t think going back 11 years is really a good tactic for someone in the McCain campaign. Lest we go back 11 years to see what McCain had to say about various issues…

  6. Wow, the vitriol! What exactly is wrong with pointing out that Biden might once have supported school choice, especially since the quote includes lots of substantive reasons for doing so? And let’s stop with the utterly illogical accusation that choice won’t work because there aren’t enough private-school seats to accomodate all potential comers. Of course there aren’t a ton of private-school seats available right now, because right now private schools can’t compete for public education funds! Apple wouldn’t manufacture millions of iPods if everyone got a Zune for “free”–why would millions of private-school seats be at the ready when we all have to pay for public schools?

    And by the way, with choice no private school could make “$$” off of inner-city kids–or anyone else–without offering their parents’ a better product than their public schools. In contrast, without choice public schools and their employees are able to make plenty that they haven’t really earned.

  7. Interesting Neal: “private schools can’t compete for public education funds.” Maybe that’s because they’re, ya know, private?

    Are you seriously suggesting that if private schools could get public funding, they would, and within X years (and yes, please tell me how many years it would take) would scale up to enable them to educate all these kids who are apparently waiting in the wings to enroll? And how many of these kids won’t even be accepted to these private schools because many are competitive in nature?

    Then again, of course you’re serious. For you and Cato, the only good public school is a private school.

  8. Oh, Marktropolis…

    Exactly how should I have responded to MFrank’s assertion that school choice programs won’t work because there aren’t currently enough seats in PRIVATE schools without pointing out that right now PRIVATE schools can’t compete for tax dollars that pay for “free” public schools?

    On to your reasonable–but still logically wanting–question of whether the private-school sector would scale up its offerings if it could compete for tax dollars currently going to public schools? Yes, it would, especially if private schools were able to compete for the whole per-pupil amount spent on public schools. I would guess it would take five to ten years to accomodate everyone, but that is just a guess–it would depend on how a program were designed and the credibility of threats to destroy it. But if all public-education dollars were attached to kids and not schools, and parents were guaranteed in perpetuity the right to send their kids to any schools they wished, private-school supply would almost certainly rise to meet demand. See, for instance, “higher education” to get some idea how supply meets demand when consumers can choose. (And yes, higher ed has huge price-inflation problems, but supply is clearly there, and despite state-subsidy advantages enjoyed by public institutions, private schools are in abundance).

    Oh, and with regards to some kids not being accepted to competitive schools. See again higher ed. There are postsecondary options available for everything from welding certifcation, to associate’s-granting institutions, to the large percentage of colleges and universities that have noncompetitive admissions, to Harvard. It turns out that when schools can compete, all kinds of options emerge that accomodate the incredibly varied needs and desires of American students.

  9. By the way, I falsely accused MFrank of stating that choice makes no sense because there aren’t enough private-school seats to accomodate all who might want them. I should have attributed that to Paul Friedmann.

  10. Neal, I’d be able to handle your K-12/higher ed comparison if we had compulsory education through the BA. But we don’t. And let’s not talk about how may years it’s taken the country’s higher ed system to get where it is today. Harvard was founded in what, 1636? But for the sake of argument…

    Choice for choice sake is one thing. Which is where I think you’re going. But does choice do anything to improve the quality of the publicly-funded entities? That’s always been the argument in support of public school choice. But as you point out, there’s always been choice in higher ed – but has that improved the quality of public offerings?

  11. It would seem the choice-driven competition in higher education has made the whole system work well–ours is widely regarded as the best higher education system in the world, and more students from abroad come here than go anywhere else–though it’s hard to say for sure if it has made public institutions work better. Even with that said, we see public institutions fighting hard to move up the U.S. News rankings, and places like UVa and William and Mary battling for as much autonomy as they can get in order to compete.

    I would say the really striking thing about higher ed is that it’s grown into a huge force without being compulsory. Imagine how much bigger it would be if everyone were required to get a BA and just given the money to do so! And colleges were actually quite abundant in this country long before most people went to them, with religious organizations seemingly founding one in every little town as Americans spread west. Of course the higher education system for centuries was nothing like it is today, but if anything our colleges were usually wanting for students, not vice versa.

  12. Neal: Interesting that you point out the superiority of our higher ed system, especially given that most of the students, faculty and staff at those institutions were products of the public K-12 system you are so quick to criticize. That’s not to say that I think the K-12 system is all that – there’s plenty of room for improvement. I’m just not convinced that “choice-driven competition” is the way to go. Take a look at Milwaukee, one city that has arguable the most choice options – and all of them are in tatters. Yes, a host of vendors appeared when choice became available (with the money following the child) and a plethora of those choices were crap.

    Also, the choice you speak of in higher ed, is not the same choice you are promoting in K-12. Having the choice between spending a 10s of thousands on a state institution, and 100s of thousands for a private institution isn’t much of a choice unless you can afford it. Which is another reason why your comparison doesn’t hold any water for me.

  13. Marktropolis,

    I wish I had time to keep this exchange going because you present oodles of baseless myths and wild statements that scream for busting. I would only say now that the success of American higher education is hardly rooted in the fact that our colleges and universities teach many kids who went to our public schools. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that the biggest problem for higher ed is that our kids aren’t adequately educated in our k-12 schools.

    More important, I think you really ought to offer some evidence–or maybe even familiarize yourself with the evidence–before writing something like “take a look at Milwaukee, one city that has arguably the most choice options – and all of them are in tatters.” There have only been a few choice schools shut down, there is lots of research suggesting that school choice has improved education in Milwaukee, and there’s none that shows that choice has made Milwaukee education worse. Moreover, until recently vouchers were capped at 15 percent of Milwaukee’s school-aged population, not to mention that the program has been under constant political threat of destruction. That’s not even close to the choice system necessary for real options to have a chance of survival.

    Oh, and the cost of higher ed? Excessive subsidization is the culprit behind that, but in the end we have a lot of success getting kids into college–almost two-thirds of spring high school grads enroll in postsecondary ed the following fall. Our problem is program completion, and that’s at least in part becasue too many of our students don’t come into higher education with the skills they need to complete their programs.

  14. Speaking of baseless myths and wild statements…

    I’m actually quite familiar with the situation in Milwaukee having been working in and around that system for the better part of the last four years. (a) more than “a few” schools have been shut, (b) the research record on choice in Milwaukee is mixed at best, and (c) MPA was identified as a District in Need of Improvement last fall, and are now under an state-imposed (NCLB required) improvement plan. Interesting that MPA’s standing a la NCLB actually declined over the same period that Milwaukee’s choice experiment was maturing. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel did a seven-day series on these schools back in 05 for those of you looking for more information. I’d add a link, but the last time I did that on this blog my comment got cued for approval.

    To make matters worse, the most recent major evaluation of these schools, sponsored by the very business community that supports them, found thusly: “We conclude that that system as it is currently designed does not accomplish what it is supposed to. Market forces do not or cannot provide the rewards or exact the penalties expected. . . . The very people choice schools are supposed to help – poor families – are betrayed, as are the taxpayers who are footing the bill.”

    How much more evidence do you require?

    Back to higher ed… I agree with your assessment that the largest challenge now is getting kids academically prepared for college. Hey agreement! But I differ when we start talking about why the cost has gone up. Tuition at state institutions has risen because costs have risen but state support has not (and in some cases has dropped). So I’d like to see your evidence that the cost has increased due to excessive subsidization. That’s counter-intuitive on its face, so I’ll need some help with that.

  15. Marktropolis, you quote selectively–way too selectively. I give you, for instance, a quote from the press release for the Forum on Public Policy book you site as the evidence that the “very business community that supports” vouchers thinks they don’t work. (I’d link to it, too, but I don’t want any more hassles than you do. A simple Google search will reveal the source):

    “Milwaukee’s choice program is designed to purposefully insulate public schools from the full effects of competition by muting the fiscal impact. Public schools losing handfuls of students are not provoked into a competitive response because they can absorb the cost of the loss.”

    Remember when I talked about free Zunes and paying for iPods? It’s a similar effect: When you keep paying for Zunes no matter how many iPods are bought, the Zunes don’t change much or go away. Milwaukee’s education system is the same thing; while some money follows the children, a bunch of it just stays where it’s always gone. That’s a major reason bad public schools often stay bad or even get worse, even if in close proximity to a school of choice.

    As for the other Milwaukee choice evidence, as I said, much is good and none shows negative effects. You haven’t disproven that at all. Even the oft-quoted-by-choice-opponents John Witte, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by choice-detractor Alan Borsuk, “found that there was little evidence that students using vouchers were doing either better or worse than comparable students in Milwaukee Public Schools, but that parent satisfaction with their schools was high.” Looks like a wash and a plus to me. And, as the MJS article adds, there is lots of reseach showing choice has helped Milwaukee students, though Borsuk tries to hint that it’s just the propaganda of choice proponents. Oh, and the schools booted from the program: There had been just seven out of 130 as of August 2006, the lastest tally I can find. I’m sure there have been more since, but as of the beginning of 2008 there were still 122 school in the program. That hardly indicates that many more than a relative handful of school have been kicked out.

    Overall, as I said, just letting around 15 percent of students have private-school choice is hardly going to revolutionize anything, especially when public schools are held-harmless. And while the district being identified as “needing improvement” under NCLB isn’t a good sign, it is well know that NCLB ratings are very imprecise instruments, and regardless, there is no way you can blame still very limited choice for it happening.

    Last but not least, one of my favorite myths is that college costs have had to skyrocket because state support has dropped or floundered. First, I’d refer you to the State Higher Education Executive Officers’ report “State Higher Education Finance: FY 2007,” figure 3, to see that spending has definitely not dropped. It clearly shows that the 27-year trend in real, per-pupil–PER-PUPIL–state and local financing for higher education has been essntially flat, though it tends to fluctuate with the business cycle. Indeed, in just 2000 it reached a record high at $7,595. In light of that, there is absolutely no validity to arguing that college costs have gone up because of tight-fisted state spending. Indeed, in order to keep per-pupil funding steady aggregate state spending had to go way up given increasing enrollment. moreover, if state spending were the driver, real prices should have remained more-or-less flat and should certainly not have risen.

    Now, contrast this to student aid. According to College Board data, over the last twenty years the real costs of tuition, fees, room and board rose 70 percent at private, four-year schools, and 78 percent at public, four-year institutions. Average, real aid per full-time-equivalent pupil, in contrast, rose almost 140 percent, with grants rising 131 percent and loans 138 percent. Knowing that this aid allows kids to pay more for college, which do you really think is the more likely price driver, state spending, or student aid?

    I’m afraid it’s back to the drawing board for you, Marktropolis. And while this has been fun and informative, I’ve really got to get on with other things.

  16. Neal, fair enough, I won’t quibble about the data related to state support for higher ed. I know I’m not familiar enough with the data, but continuing the theme of selectively quoting, re-read p. 27 of the SHEEO report you cite. The table on that page shows that nationally appropriations per FTE actually declined by 7.7% over a five year period. So I guess it all depends on how you slice the data.

    As for Milwaukee, the paragraph you site shows no evidence of impact. It states what the program was “designed” to do. Nothing about what it “actually” did.

  17. I promised myself I wouldn’t write again, but…

    I totally agree that there have been five-year drops in state higher ed spending (as I said, it tends to fluctuate with the business cycle), but the overall trend in no way supports the oft-repeated assertion that penurious state spending has forced college prices up. that was all I hoped to demonstrate.

    As for the paragraph on Milwaukee, it seems certain that the press release said what the system was designed to do as an explanation for what it actually does, or, when it comes to transforming bad public schools, doesn’t do.

    I’ve enjoyed our back-and-forth here, Marktropolis, but now I’ve REALLY got to move on.

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