Sometimes it’s best to walk away from a debate — to take the L, as the kids say.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren probably wishes she would have followed that sage advice. But now she is caught in a big education-policy dilemma. And a lie.
The Massachusetts progressive hosted a presidential campaign rally at a historically black college in Atlanta recently. Yet 10 minutes into her speech, a group of black protesters from the Powerful Parent Network interrupted her, wanting to be heard. The parents, who support educational choice for disadvantaged families, chanted, “Our children, our choice!”
The group takes issue with Sen. Warren’s radically anti-choice education plan, which would ban for-profit charter schools, end federal funding for new charters and make it more difficult to open them. She would also end vouchers and tax-credit scholarships that allow low-income families unhappy with their public schools to send their children to private ones.
According to a 2019 Education Next poll, 66 percent of African Americans support private-school vouchers to low-income families, and 55 percent support public charter schools.
Progressives like Sen. Warren claim to want to help low-income families and minorities, yet they fight tooth and talon against educational choice. Predictably, liberal activists at the Warren rally shouted down the black families, and some left-wing journalists immediately delved into conspiracy theorizing about the Powerful Parent Network’s funding sources.
To her credit, Warren met with the parent group after the event. But she only made things worse for herself. Seventeen minutes of the conversation were recorded live by a member of the parent group, Sunny Thomas, and are now on the Internet for everyone to see. The recorded discussion is mostly between the senator, Howard Fuller, a civil-rights activist and academic, and Sarah Carpenter, a member of the parent group.
During their conversation, Warren argued that public schools just needed more money. Fuller explained that more money doesn’t matter in education when “that money is going down the drain.”
Sen. Warren made Fuller’s point for him by saying, “I got an increase in child-care-development block grants. … I told all of my folks back in Massachusetts, ‘You’re going to get an 85 percent raise’ at all of our little-child development centers. You know how much they got? Zero! Somehow it all went to the state government and never made it down!”
Just as Fuller had already said, more money doesn’t do anything in education when it’s not spent wisely.
Then the senator was caught in a lie. Carpenter, the parent-group member, told Warren, “We are going to have the same choice that you had for your kids, because I read that your children went to private schools.” Warren quietly responded, “No, my children went to public schools.”
Carpenter wasn’t mistaken: She was referring to my recent exposé in the New York Post about Warren sending her son Alex to an expensive private school in the 1980s. Last month, I used Ancestry.com to figure out where the senator sent her children to school because it was under wraps. Education Week had asked Warren about where she sent her children to school, but her campaign didn’t answer the question. I similarly contacted the Warren campaign asking the same question but received no reply.
A day after the rally, the Warren campaign told the Washington Free Beacon and Fox News, “Elizabeth’s daughter went to public school. Her son went to public school until fifth grade.”
Apparently, Warren either didn’t realize the evidence about her son’s private-school attendance was uncovered or didn’t suspect anyone would notice her white lie.
Warren did the right thing by engaging with this group. But the senator probably now wishes that she would have just walked away. Within just a few hours, Warren had protesters expose her for supporting policies that trap their kids in failing schools, she unknowingly made the perfect argument against her own education proposal to throw more money at the problem — and she was caught fibbing.
How can she redeem herself? By actually listening to minority parents clamoring for real school choice.
A version of this column originally appeared in the New York Post.