Vol 10 – The Death of Public School… It Sounds Serious! (Guest: Cara Fitzpatrick)

Greetings, CharterFolk!

Greetings, CharterFolk!

This is the second WonkyFolk where Andy is talking while Jed is walking the Camino Trail with his wife, Amy. Andy and Cara Fitzpatrick, an editor at Chalkbeat and a Pulitzer Prize winner for Local Reporting in 2016 for a series about school segregation, talk school choice history and school choice today.

Their conversation focuses on Cara’s book, The Death of Public School: How Conservatives Won the War Over Education in America, particularly the complicated history of school choice in America, and the fact that very different people with very different backgrounds are pursuing school choice for very different reasons. A theme running through the discussion is the long history of political and constitutional strategies to expand school choice, especially the legal strategies focused on the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses.

For those of you who would prefer a video recording, we provide a link to YouTube as well. 

 This week some of the topics include:

  • Introductions and Cara’s background and K-12 school experience (00:00:20)
  • The provocative title of the book and an overview of the very complicated history of American school choice (00:04:33)
  • Who wins between these different visions of choice: Is it good for everyone or is it good for low income children? (00:10:50)
  • What does it mean for Democrats and school choice and why are Republicans better at messaging than Democrats? (00:15:06)
  • Organized political warfare v. grassroots in school choice (00:16:55)
  • How the Democratic answer to school choice was initially charters versus vouchers and how it only recently changed with Betsy DeVos (00:23:00)
  • Jeb Bush’s quote regarding school choice, ‘…start small and expand’ and the idea that school choice is a regular feature of American education (00:26:41)
  • Political and constitutional strategies to expand school choice, with an emphasis on legal strategies and the journey of separation of church and state in education, including precedents and the most recent Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin (2022) (00:30:57)
  • Precedents v. presentism and court shifts on the Free Exercise Clause over the years (00:38:11)
  • The role of housing in school choice and the various tools segregationist use in education that are still a problem in our school systems across the country (00:44:09)
  • Why were individuals like Milton Friedman and Virgil Bloom comfortable with school choice options (vouchers) while recognizing they would have ill effects on public schools? And is this the death of public schools? (00:48:37)

Notes:

You can use the following link to access

Cara Fitzpatrick’s book, The Death of Public School: How Conservatives Won the War Over Education in America

Andrew Rotherham’s article in U.S. News & World Report, “The Complex History of School Choice: There’s no single reason people want more choice in education“.

Transcript
Andy:

Cara Fitzpatrick, welcome to Wonky Folk.

Cara:

Thank you for having me.

Andy:

Yeah, it's great, and you're the last guest.

Andy:

Jed has been off, he is hiking in Spain, and he's been gone for a

Andy:

bit, and you're going to be the last guest before his triumphant return.

Andy:

I'm sure he'll be in a fantastic mood after that.

Andy:

I appreciate you taking the time.

Andy:

Hey, I always start like you're in New York, I know you live with

Andy:

your family, but just give us a little bit of the background.

Andy:

Where did you grow up?

Andy:

And how did you get into education?

Cara:

Oh, I grew up in Washington State, but in Eastern Washington,

Cara:

people always think Seattle.

Cara:

Eastern Washington is more like Idaho, not at all like Seattle, very conservative.

Cara:

Sort of rural farming a lot.

Cara:

And my mom is a public school teacher, retired now, and my

Cara:

sister is also a teacher in the same district where we grew up.

Cara:

And so I ended up writing about education, but had no interest in being a teacher.

Cara:

So I guess that's kind of how I got into it.

Andy:

Cool.

Andy:

What was school like for you?

Andy:

Like, mean...

Andy:

If your mom was a teacher, your sister was at a place you found

Andy:

gratification, validation, was school frustrating and hard?

Andy:

Like, what was your relationship with school?

Cara:

I don't think anyone has ever asked me that.

Cara:

I had a fine relationship with school.

Cara:

The area that we were in, like I said, was somewhat rural, so there

Cara:

were no sort of choices as we would think of them, you know, there is now

Cara:

more schools, but at that time there were maybe three elementary schools,

Cara:

a middle school, or as we called it, a junior high and then a high school.

Cara:

And so that, that was it.

Cara:

You know, that was sort of, those were your choices unless maybe you

Cara:

were going to drive a good distance.

Cara:

And so, you know, it was fine.

Cara:

There were things about it that were better and things that were

Cara:

worse, but it was overall fine.

Cara:

I mean, I didn't struggle in school, I guess.

Andy:

Good.

Andy:

So you say you basically, you enjoyed it.

Andy:

I have good feelings.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

I mean, for the most part, you know, I think I was a smart kid.

Cara:

who was somewhat bored sometimes.

Cara:

And, for whatever reason, right around my junior and senior year of high school.

Cara:

They got rid of a lot of the AP classes, and so that did not help, but you know.

Andy:

Did they get rid of like budget cuts or for policy

Andy:

reasons what was behind that?

Cara:

I actually have no idea because I wasn't at all plugged into it.

Cara:

I just knew all of a sudden there were fewer honors classes to take.

Cara:

And that had been kind of the track I had been on.

Cara:

But, it never was raised as an issue of like, "oh, we

Cara:

could send her somewhere else.

Cara:

" There was nowhere else to go.

Cara:

So, you know, and my, my parents didn't have expectations of me

Cara:

leaving for college or doing any of those sorts of things.

Cara:

So it was just like, this is good.

Cara:

This is good enough.

Andy:

And did you leave for college?

Andy:

Were they shocked at that?

Cara:

I well, so I went to the University of Washington, which does

Cara:

not seem like a big, shocking move is it's in Seattle, but my parents

Cara:

were definitely opposed to that.

Andy:

Very different place makes me washington.

Cara:

Yeah, I actually had a couple of teachers tell me that I should not go to

Cara:

like the big city as they thought of it.

Cara:

And that I would die and no one would care because it was such a large school.

Cara:

And my parents and I had some disagreements about it my senior year.

Cara:

And ultimately the way I got around that was I applied to exactly one college,

Cara:

which was the University of Washington.

Cara:

And I said, if you want me to go, this is the school that I've gotten

Cara:

into because I applied nowhere else.

Cara:

So, that was my creative way of getting what I wanted.

Andy:

You're lucky to live in a state with a school like UW.

Andy:

It's a great school.

Cara:

It is a good school.

Andy:

Okay, that's interesting.

Andy:

I always ask people that because I find in the sector, and this is a bit of a gross

Andy:

overgeneralization, there's certainly exceptions, but in general, like, You

Andy:

find people who either they really love school and they found like a lot of

Andy:

validation there And that's why they work in education because it's an area They've

Andy:

always felt good or they really didn't like it for whatever reason they felt,

Andy:

you know excluded or marginalized or they really struggled they weren't good at it

Andy:

and so like they're in this career because they're trying to fix it, and they're

Andy:

like trying to change it so others don't have that experience and people often

Andy:

I find fall in those two broad buckets.

Andy:

You do get some people who are just like yeah, they're more rare.

Cara:

I was going to say I might be in the rare bucket.

Andy:

That's good.

Andy:

You're rare.

Andy:

That's really heavier.

Andy:

So, we can look, we can talk about your biography all afternoon, but the

Andy:

reason we've got you here is because you have a new book out, The Death of

Andy:

Public School, which sounds ominous.

Andy:

And so I figured we'd better have you on because that sounds very serious.

Cara:

I have a friend who lives in Mexico actually.

Cara:

And she had a hard time, you know, getting the book to Mexico.

Cara:

And then she showed it to her daughter.

Cara:

Who's in elementary school.

Cara:

And she said, is it a scary book?

Andy:

So.

Andy:

You tell me.

Andy:

Is it a scary?

Cara:

I mean, it's kind of on point, right?

Cara:

Halloween is tomorrow.

Cara:

No, I mean, I think it has a provocative title, it's not actually what the

Cara:

original title was, but I, I, you know...

Andy:

I have to pause you there.

Andy:

So this is always it.

Andy:

What did you want to call it?

Cara:

So, the original title that I sort of, you know, sold the book proposal

Cara:

with was The Unholy Alliance or Unholy Alliance, which is a Paul Williams quote.

Cara:

It ends up being a chapter, a couple of titles.

Cara:

And I just really liked.

Cara:

That Paul Williams quote, because I thought it spoke to so many

Cara:

different sort of political weird alliances in school choice, but for

Cara:

selling a book to audiences that aren't familiar with the subject.

Cara:

It could be anything, you know, so the conversation we had was it could be a

Cara:

history of like the Catholic Church It could be some kind of Roman Empire thing.

Cara:

It didn't say education.

Andy:

Apparently we all do you think about the Roman Empire a lot.

Cara:

Yes, that's a thing right now.

Cara:

So yeah, it didn't necessarily make a ton of sense as jumping out about education

Cara:

And then a lot of people don't also know what school choice is, and so that was

Cara:

in the subtitle, so we kind of had this conversation where we went around in

Cara:

circles, but we're ultimately what is this about, you know, and it's sort of this

Cara:

question about whether or not the school choice movement erases or, you know,

Cara:

gets rid of public schools or if it just sort of changes what public education is.

Cara:

And so that's where we came down.

Andy:

Look.

Andy:

It's definitely a catchy title.

Andy:

It's going to make people buy it because it's alarming.

Andy:

I do think Unholy Alliance because it's a good title because

Andy:

you get into a lot of history.

Andy:

That's not so told.

Andy:

I mean, I think the sort of history on the right and school vouchers is like

Andy:

a tool of segregation and so forth.

Andy:

We hear a lot about that, particularly lately.

Andy:

You hear a lot less about sort of the new left and you get into Chris

Andy:

Jenks and Jack Coons and Ted Coldery.

Andy:

And, I just had dinner with Ted about a week and a half ago or so.

Cara:

Oh, did you?

Andy:

Yeah, there's, I mean, like, these are people who, like, came

Andy:

at this from a totally different Perspective and that often is minimized

Andy:

and sort of how people tell the story.

Andy:

So Unholly Alliance seems good because I think you did a nice job getting

Andy:

into the more complicated history.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

I mean, that's what was attractive to me about it was sort of this idea of

Cara:

all of these different people from very different backgrounds sort of being

Cara:

interested in the same sort of tool or mechanism, but with very different

Cara:

intentions and the idea they overlap.

Cara:

You know that some of these people that you would have Christopher Jenks

Cara:

at the same time that you would have segregationists, you know, I thought

Cara:

that was so interesting and you never hear that, you know, you rarely hear

Cara:

about that, that aspect of things.

Cara:

So, but yeah, as a title, it just, it had to go to a chapter title.

Andy:

And you get into one of the things I thought was interesting to get

Andy:

into is saying, I'll still hear about a lot is the alum rock demonstration

Andy:

project and sort of that, you know, they actually tried to put some of

Andy:

these ideas, some of Jenks's ideas into practice during the Nixon administration.

Andy:

And they tried to do it.

Andy:

As you were writing the book, were you surprised?

Andy:

Were you like learning about this stuff or was this like a story you were familiar

Andy:

with and you felt like should be told?

Andy:

Cause I just think like, it's a part of the book I really liked.

Andy:

It's a history that if you watched everybody's trying to rip each

Andy:

other's face off on Twitter around this, like seemingly very ignorant

Andy:

of this complicated history.

Andy:

And so I liked that you got into it.

Andy:

So like, I guess my question is, what was that like for you?

Cara:

Well, so I knew pieces of it.

Cara:

I knew pieces of the story from being an education reporter.

Cara:

I didn't know a lot of things.

Cara:

I had heard of alum rock.

Cara:

I knew, you know, Little, little bits about things, but I didn't know all the

Cara:

ins and outs, and I think, you know, I also, I knew pieces from either a for or

Cara:

against choice sort of standpoint, you know, so if you're, if you're for choice,

Cara:

maybe you talk about Milton Friedman, and you talk about Jack Coons, and you know,

Cara:

you talk about some of these different pieces, and if you're opposed to it,

Cara:

then maybe you talk about segregation.

Cara:

And I just was interested in how those things actually fit together.

Cara:

Like, how are those both true at the same time, and how do they overlap?

Cara:

And I didn't know some of those pieces, I feel like when you're an education

Cara:

reporter, you sort of know the stuff that affects what you're writing about.

Cara:

So I knew Florida's story pretty well, cause I worked in Florida for a long time.

Cara:

I grew up in Washington state, so I knew that we really didn't have.

Cara:

I mean, hardly any school choice to speak of a few charter schools now, and

Cara:

that's been contested in the courts.

Cara:

So I just, you know, I was kind of interested in how do these things fit

Cara:

together and sort of bounce off each other and how do you actually pass

Cara:

some of these things politically?

Cara:

You know, because they are so contested and people are so, I mean,

Cara:

just there's no like middle ground.

Cara:

I kind of felt like I was searching for a middle ground and, you

Cara:

know, you don't see much of one.

Cara:

So how do you even pass these things then?

Cara:

And so then I looked for places of sort of connection.

Andy:

Well, that's sort of from the beginning.

Andy:

You talk in the book about Minnesota, you know, and Ember and, you know, the effort

Andy:

to get the charter law passed there and like you talk about how everybody ended

Andy:

up kind of everybody was disappointed in it for a compromise for different reasons.

Andy:

Talk about that.

Andy:

Is that sort of like, you know, is that sort of a theme that comes through this

Andy:

or is one side actually over time winning?

Cara:

Well, I mean, what I conclude is that over time conservatives win, right?

Cara:

That, one of the questions I had at some point in the research, this was

Cara:

five years, but at some point, one of the questions I had was, you know, who

Cara:

wins between sort of these different visions for choice because you have

Cara:

sort of the Milton Friedman universal, it's good for everybody, argument.

Cara:

And then you have this very sort of narrow, progressive argument of

Cara:

this is good for low income kids.

Cara:

And I wondered, you know, Who's vision for choice sort of wins, so

Cara:

that was a question I had and you know in this current moment It feels

Cara:

very much like Milton Friedman's vision for choice has won over this

Cara:

sort of more progressive model that different people have championed.

Cara:

Minnesota I was kind of interested in because you know one of the things

Cara:

you do here as an education reporter is that Al Shanker supported Charter

Cara:

schools, you know, and I thought, well, that's interesting why is this very

Cara:

well known, you know, teachers union president, a supporter of charters.

Cara:

And the Minnesota story was interesting too, because, you know, those were sort

Cara:

of democratic voices saying that we need some choice, but not school vouchers.

Cara:

And I liked the idea of how to charters and school vouchers sort

Cara:

of hit up against each other.

Cara:

You know, how do those things play off each other politically?

Cara:

And because charter schools is kind of a weird idea, I mean, it's normal

Cara:

to us now, but it's kind of a strange idea when you think about it, we'll

Cara:

have a different kind of public school, like all this major features of public

Cara:

school, but broken off from the district.

Cara:

That's a really interesting kind of odd idea.

Cara:

And I liked, sort of this, I like this idea of if we could go back

Cara:

to when these things were new and erase what we know about them now.

Cara:

What was appealing at the time?

Cara:

Why did something sort of take off?

Cara:

And Ember wrote in her book, um, which is a really useful history of charter

Cara:

school legislation in Minnesota.

Cara:

She wrote about how she was actually, opposed to school vouchers.

Cara:

And so she was looking for something that would create sort of choice and

Cara:

innovation, but wasn't taking away sort of from the public system,, and so I

Cara:

thought that was really interesting.

Andy:

Let's stay on charters for a second.

Andy:

You said like, if you could go back, you would change, what would you change?

Cara:

Well, no, not change something.

Cara:

I'm saying when you're trying to write a history book, you know, when I'm

Cara:

researching these things, you have to sort of think about what you don't know, like

Cara:

try to pretend you don't know how this ends up and think about it in the moment.

Cara:

And I just thought it was interesting that in that moment, if you're a

Cara:

Democrat looking for something that is sort of an answer to school vouchers.

Cara:

I think just politically, you can't just say, well, we're just

Cara:

for traditional public schools.

Cara:

Cause in that moment in time, it was all about Ed reform and it was, you

Cara:

know, this fallout still from a nation at risk and all that kind of thing.

Cara:

And so it's trying to back up and think about what it looked like at

Cara:

that time, which is kind of hard to do actually, to go back and

Cara:

say, well, what did this look like?

Cara:

Before we had all of these things before, you know, the ending sort of.

Andy:

So I want to go deeper on the book with like that begs like an obvious

Andy:

political question like the debate.

Andy:

The Democrats basic position right now is they are against

Andy:

most kinds of school choice.

Andy:

Pretty much everything except fairly limited public school choice.

Andy:

For the most part, there's obviously exceptions, there's Democrats who support

Andy:

school vouchers, there's Democrats who support charter schools and so forth.

Andy:

But like, in general, the party is fairly hostile to choice.

Andy:

I'm sorry.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

I said, Yeah, there's been a backlash.

Andy:

Yeah, it's certainly more hostile.

Andy:

I think that it was during either the Clinton administration,

Andy:

the Obama administration.

Andy:

So against that backdrop, the argument is basically nothing.

Andy:

And you've got Republicans championing a bunch of choice.

Andy:

So it's sort of lots of choice against essentially nothing on the I'm not saying

Andy:

the Democrats agenda on everything on education, nothing on the choice issue,

Andy:

it's fairly narrow, against this Republican real, this real pressure

Andy:

and demand for choice at a time when it's pretty broadly supported as well.

Andy:

So, like, what does that mean for the Democrats?

Andy:

And what does that mean for school choice?

Cara:

Well, I mean, I'm not a advocate or a political operative at all, but.

Andy:

No, but you're an analyst.

Andy:

A reporter with history.

Cara:

I mean, as a journalist and as somebody who spent all this time

Cara:

sort of trying to understand the politics of this and see how people

Cara:

actually got these programs passed.

Cara:

I mean, to me, it seems like Republicans have often been better at this.

Cara:

You know, they've been really good on messaging, like they, they're

Cara:

actually fairly masterful at messaging around school choice.

Cara:

And I think also that the Republican supporters of choice have been good

Cara:

at presenting something and packaging something, you know, they have something

Cara:

to sell that's different than what exists.

Cara:

And I think if you're in politics, trying to sell sort of the status

Cara:

quo is not really a selling message like we like what we have, you

Cara:

know That doesn't do a lot for you.

Andy:

Especially when a lot of people clearly don't like what they have.

Cara:

Exactly right, exactly.

Cara:

It's like no it has problems and it's inequitable But ultimately

Cara:

we think we should stick with it.

Cara:

Like that's not a really just politically speaking, that's not the strongest

Cara:

message I think and I feel like sometimes, , especially in this moment,

Cara:

it just feels like Democrats don't necessarily know how to answer some of

Cara:

these things, the parental freedom stuff and this huge explosion of school choice.

Cara:

It doesn't, it still feels like they don't have a very good answer to it.

Cara:

And so, I mean, that's kind of a problem for them, but it's interesting

Cara:

to watch because it does feel like even after all this time, there's

Cara:

still not a very good answer to it.

Cara:

. Andy: So one of the things that's saying on this, one of the parts of the book

Cara:

that I was somewhat skeptical of, you talk about sort of lots of grass, you talk

Cara:

about grassroots opposition later in the book to some of this stuff, but a lot of

Cara:

those groups are not grassroots groups.

Cara:

This is like organized political warfare and it's just between,

Cara:

you know, two different camps.

Cara:

Right.

Cara:

Occasionally there's like organic stuff springs up, but most of the people

Cara:

who are generally associated sort of prominent advocates, they have.

Cara:

You know, they have money behind them from the teachers unions or

Cara:

from left learning foundations.

Cara:

And conversely, on the right, certainly a lot of the advocates there have money

Cara:

behind them from foundations on the right.

Cara:

So I'm not, I'm certainly not trying to claim that like one side of the

Cara:

others is pure, impure, but it's just this is like a special interest fight.

Cara:

And in some ways we get all wrapped around the axel on its education it's really

Cara:

in some ways no different than fights.

Cara:

Are we going to like deregulate?

Cara:

In the past, like we deregulate the airlines or you can deregulate telecom.

Cara:

Who's going to get to make all these regulatory decisions?

Cara:

It's sort of the same thing.

Cara:

And so where I'm going with that is, you know, you talked about some of

Cara:

these groups, but like, if you look at like ample public polling, like a

Cara:

majority of Hispanic Americans, Black Americans, they want school choice, right?

Cara:

Like the main group standing astride saying no is sort of this alliance,

Cara:

which I guess you could call an unholy alliance of sort of white progressives

Cara:

and the producer interest in education, primarily the teachers unions, but also

Cara:

like the school districts and so forth.

Cara:

Like, how does that fit with sort of the story you tell in terms of the politics

Cara:

as they evolve and where they are now?

Cara:

Well, I don't think there's any sort of pure side.

Cara:

I mean, the teachers unions have been opposed to pretty much all

Cara:

forms of school choice overall.

Cara:

You know, since the start, I mean, they were even opposed to dual enrollment

Cara:

or junior and seniors go to get some classes at college, I mean, I think

Cara:

they have generally been opposed to anything that was outside of school

Cara:

districts, that's a lot of things.

Andy:

Except we have to, pause for the give credit to Shanker.

Andy:

Right.

Andy:

Cause he's one of those, I'm not on everything and I think he arguably,

Andy:

he failed to reform the union the way he wanted to, but like, He's one of

Andy:

those people, you can read stuff he wrote and you read it to people and

Andy:

they just immediately assume it's like some conservative Republican saying

Andy:

it and you can like, you know, take off, you're like, that was Al Shanker.

Andy:

He was, I think he was trying to move in a different direction on some

Andy:

of this stuff as long as it didn't like really screw over his members.

Cara:

Yeah, I mean, Shanker is an interesting figure in all of it, because

Cara:

I think there was a willingness on his part to entertain different ideas.

Cara:

I think in part because he didn't want what he viewed as

Cara:

bad policies imposed on them.

Cara:

And so I think he had an idea that, you know, if you sort of play ball on

Cara:

some things and show a willingness to consider some ideas, then, you know,

Cara:

that just comes across better than just straight opposition to all things.

Cara:

And I think he also was fairly honest about there being

Cara:

some challenges in education.

Cara:

But the, but with the charter school thing, you know, he was in favor of

Cara:

that for a few years and then very quickly lumped it in with school

Cara:

vouchers and called it a gimmick, you know, so I think sometimes his

Cara:

support for that gets overstated.

Cara:

A bit but on the.

Andy:

You're right I mean the unions tell us sort of like it sounds like a biblical

Andy:

story there was like this eden like state with charters and then this like now

Andy:

we're in this like fallen state, which is convenient for their political narrative,

Andy:

but it's not really what happened , you know, and the other side tells the

Andy:

story of like Shanker was for this shanker's for that you should be for this

Andy:

and that's not the whole story either.

Cara:

No, no.

Cara:

And he, you know, he just was, I think, a complicated figure.

Cara:

So trying to boil it down into a talking point is probably where people go wrong.

Cara:

But, but, you know, on the grassroots thing, I think there are definitely

Cara:

organizations out there that are supporting traditional public schools

Cara:

and are opposed to school choice that are not necessarily just union funded.

Cara:

I think where it gets a little complicated is I think the idea of choice, just

Cara:

the basic idea is extremely appealing and it has pulled better over time.

Cara:

You know, I mean, school vouchers, it used to be that if you put sort

Cara:

of vouchers into a polling question, that it pulled worse, right?

Cara:

If you put some other way of phrasing it into the question, then it would

Cara:

pull better because vouchers just had a negative connotation to a lot of people,

Cara:

but I think also there's an aspect of familiarity to it, you know, we've now

Cara:

had different school choice options for a long time, and so there's a certain

Cara:

sense of, I know what that is, you know, and also again, I think the messaging

Cara:

around it is very good because what really sounds negative about choice?

Andy:

Yeah, well, I mean, I've said before, like essentially being against

Andy:

choice in America is like being against gravity and you only, you only have

Andy:

to like walk through like a grocery store or sort of any part of our sort

Andy:

of our various commercial sectors to see how much Americans like choice

Andy:

to the point even when those choices might not actually be optimal choices.

Andy:

People just, it's a very deeply ingrained function of how we live.

Andy:

And so not having an answer for that politically seems like a real, it

Andy:

seems like a box canyon strategy.

Andy:

There's just no, there's, you have to have some kind of answer, which

Andy:

obviously that's why Bill Clinton championed charter schools, he thought

Andy:

that would be a way out and sort of a third way kind of compromise on that.

Andy:

You couldn't, you can't just say no on this stuff, like,

Andy:

you have to have something.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

And I think that we saw that then with charter schools for a long time,

Cara:

charter schools and, you know, merit pay for teachers, different sort of

Cara:

reform ideas that you could kind of package together, but the democrat

Cara:

answer to you know to school vouchers for a long time was charter schools.

Cara:

That really has only changed I think with you know, the Trump years and then

Cara:

the sort of divisiveness of Betsy Devos

Andy:

Yeah, you talk about Devos.

Andy:

So talk about that because that's certainly you were mentioning like

Andy:

earlier the word voucher had weird polling connotations something we were

Andy:

seeing during the Trump years was if you just attached an idea to Betsy

Andy:

Devos's name, it would pull lower, so if you described it to people and then

Andy:

you described it like in an A, B kind of sample, then you said like, this is

Andy:

something that Betsy Devos wants to do.

Andy:

It would pull lower, which isn't usual for a secretary of education to

Andy:

sort of cast that kind of a shadow.

Andy:

So you get into her a lot in the book.

Andy:

So talk about that.

Cara:

Well, it's funny.

Cara:

I get into her a little bit in the book.

Cara:

If I had a, I had someone tell me the other day that they wanted a chapter on

Cara:

Betsy Devos and they got like two pages.

Andy:

I got it.

Cara:

I was like, I'm sorry, but I didn't actually think that, you know, for as

Cara:

much media attention as she commanded and for as polarizing a figure as she

Cara:

sort of was, she didn't, most of her accomplishments were not actually in

Cara:

the realm of K to 12 or school choice.

Cara:

You know, a lot of the things that, that the Trump administration talked

Cara:

about, you know, or they talked about coming into office, didn't actually

Cara:

come to pass, you know, and there's not necessarily strong conservative

Cara:

support for, say, like a federal voucher pro, you know, because it gets into

Cara:

other other areas of, of disagreement.

Cara:

And so what I liked was, was this.

Cara:

Um, and she visited Milwaukee and she sort of called back to the history

Cara:

and she called back to Polly Williams.

Andy:

Yeah, exactly.

Cara:

Yeah, I liked that moment because one, she kind of gave this

Cara:

speech where she talked about what the future of public education was with

Cara:

through the lens of school choice.

Cara:

And I thought if you, I mean, speaking to the polarization of the issue,

Cara:

you either are going to read that and think, oh my gosh, this is awful.

Cara:

Or you're going to read that and think, actually, that sounds pretty good, and so

Cara:

I like that and the fact that she called back to this history with Polly Williams

Cara:

in Milwaukee, but ultimately I didn't think that she necessarily needed a whole

Cara:

chapter, you know, I didn't feel like she had, she was a very effective sort

Cara:

of voice for choice in her career, but as education secretary, I mean, people

Cara:

really, really reacted strongly to her in such a way that I think it caused a

Cara:

lot of the backlash with like anything that you could, I mean, as you said,

Cara:

anything that you could sort of attach or two for a certain group of people

Cara:

that was okay, then we don't want that.

Andy:

Interesting because she did it and to her credit, like, I mean, she

Andy:

didn't want a lot of multiple choices.

Andy:

To her credit, she took some tough stands at times that went against some of these

Andy:

ideas around like universal vouchers and so forth, like earlier in her career.

Andy:

And she wanted to make sure these things were targeted.

Andy:

We're going to help, uh, underprivileged kids and that's all been sort of,

Andy:

you know, all that sort of erased.

Cara:

Yeah, I mean, I think that for, it's interesting because how many education

Cara:

secretaries in the past do you think very many people could even name, you know?

Cara:

And it's just, it's interesting that she commanded that sort of attention, just

Cara:

that it would have any kind of effect really is sort of in itself interesting,

Cara:

but that I think was also just sort of the Trump effect, not even just DeVos.

Cara:

I think that was the Trump effect.

Cara:

So...

Andy:

So something you say early in the book that kind of relates to this,

Andy:

you talk about, it's a quote from Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and

Andy:

very high profile education advocate.

Andy:

And Jeb says something like, I forget the exact quote, but it's basically

Andy:

this is like, this was the vision for vouchers and school choice all along.

Andy:

Start small and expand.

Cara:

Yeah he was asked in an interview at the Tampa Bay Times, basically it was,

Cara:

I don't remember the exact question, but it was something along the lines of sort

Cara:

of how did this, You know, I'll come to be and he basically said that you start

Cara:

small and expand which is actually how Pretty much all school choice programs

Cara:

have been passed, you know, and it's sort of interesting because the critics

Cara:

of them said from the start that you're going to start with low income kids or

Cara:

you're going to start with this cap on enrollment and then you're going to go

Cara:

You know, it's just going to be the start of this, it's going to go somewhere else.

Cara:

And so I thought, and when I listened to that interview, I just, I thought,

Cara:

well, that, that actually is kind of the whole sort of political strategy

Cara:

that's been extremely effective.

Andy:

My question for you on that, the reason why that jumped

Andy:

out at me is like, that's true.

Andy:

But that's also, that's how, like, all policy, I mean, like, Social Security

Andy:

started with pensions for widows.

Andy:

and orphans, right?

Andy:

And then expand into a broader social insurance program.

Andy:

We started, you know, Medicare and Medicaid started in more targeted

Andy:

ways and subsequently expanded like almost any policy domain.

Andy:

That's how you start, you know, with various kinds of like, you

Andy:

know, tax credits for different, like you start small and you try

Andy:

to, and then advocates get a toehold and you try to get it bigger.

Andy:

So I was surprised that like you were this was somehow like, that strikes

Andy:

me as that's just like, basically that's like what you do if you're

Andy:

an advocate for a particular policy, whether you're left, right or center.

Cara:

Yeah, no, I mean, I think that that's because why would that, you

Cara:

know, that makes sense in a lot of ways.

Cara:

Like you're not going to oppose something that's small and experimental and this

Cara:

is a pilot and we're going to try this out and then, but I don't know that's

Cara:

necessarily been as true in education.

Cara:

You know, there are things that people have said, we're going to try this and

Cara:

then it kind of has gone away, you know, I mean, you just think about all of the

Cara:

big Ed reform things that were just like dominant in the coverage earlier when I

Cara:

earlier in my career, but Merit pay and, you know, the VAM stuff that for a little

Cara:

while as a reporter, I was just consumed with this stuff in Florida, and it's not

Cara:

really what we're talking about anymore.

Cara:

It's sort of interesting.

Andy:

And in some ways that's like that kind of makes the point because those

Andy:

things they didn't start and iterate, they jumped really went from like,

Andy:

basically evaluating no teachers to deciding we're going to evaluate all

Andy:

of them, including in the majority of subjects and grades aren't even assessed

Andy:

and so well under its own pressure.

Andy:

And then, even before you got to all the although it was technically

Andy:

incredibly difficult for you and got to all the political stuff.

Andy:

So but I feel like things that generally succeed and become embedded is features

Andy:

of American life, and I think you can argue school choice is probably a feature

Andy:

of American life now, it's so broad, like they tend to start small and then

Andy:

they just sort of, grow and expand.

Cara:

Yeah, I mean, I think that that is a good way to start something, but I

Cara:

don't know if that's necessarily like a really obvious thing with choice, because

Cara:

one of the things I think is interesting about it is that American schools tend

Cara:

to be, our system is pretty decentralized and so it's interesting at all that you

Cara:

would have a movement where you might start something in Milwaukee and then

Cara:

have similar forces supporting it in Cleveland and supporting it in Florida.

Cara:

You know, I mean, I think that's one of the ways that the opposition to

Cara:

it has been sort of outmaneuvered in a certain sense, because it comes

Cara:

across as a local thing and it's treated as sort of a local thing.

Cara:

And so to have kind of these driving forces behind it, just the fact that you

Cara:

had the same Lawyers on so many of the cases I thought was really interesting,

Cara:

because so often things in education are well This is the thing we're doing in

Cara:

Florida, to see something spread is kind of I mean, like the, the Florida model

Cara:

that Jeb Bush was pioneering for quite a while to watch that go from one state to

Cara:

multiple states, that actually is kind of interesting in education, I think, and

Cara:

different maybe than some other areas.

Andy:

So one thing that's happened that sort of has fueled some of that expansion

Andy:

is you sort of, and you get into the book, there's sort of two tracks here.

Andy:

Yeah, the political tracks, the different kinds of school choice laws being passed,

Andy:

and then you have this constitutional track where you essentially have like

Andy:

a concerted legal strategy just to basically completely up end First

Andy:

Amendment jurisprudence first around, you know, ultimately around both the

Andy:

free exercise and establishment clauses.

Andy:

And we've sort of seen that still been playing out even in

Andy:

the last few years at the court.

Andy:

And it's sort of created this incredible space and opportunity and ultimately

Andy:

now the way the laws are or the way the Supreme Court, you know, precedents

Andy:

are almost like a propulsion for if you're going to have school choice,

Andy:

you're going to have to have fairly broad based school choice, and you're

Andy:

seeing that now there's like religious schools trying to come into the charter

Andy:

sector and that's very contentious.

Andy:

So talk about that in that part of the book.

Andy:

Cause that legal history isn't told that much.

Andy:

And it's I mean, by the time you have this sort of Louisiana case on like technology

Andy:

was you could sort of see that they were gonna succeed ultimately on on vouchers.

Andy:

You could sort of see the argument already gone over those previous 30 years.

Andy:

And so talk about that and sort of How that relates to this sort of

Andy:

really steady expansion of choice.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

So this is an area that I didn't know very much about, when I started doing the

Cara:

research, but one of the first books that I've read was Voucher Wars, which was

Cara:

written by one of the lawyers that I ended up writing a great deal about in the book.

Cara:

And that was told from a, you know, pro school choice, sort of explaining

Cara:

the litigation from that perspective.

Cara:

And I thought, that was interesting because it hadn't occurred to me

Cara:

necessarily how important it was to win.

Cara:

In the courts, you know, I was thinking legislatively, how do you

Cara:

pass this and that kind of thing.

Cara:

But I thought, oh, well, yeah, of course, that seems obvious that these

Cara:

programs are instantly going to be challenged and that where you really

Cara:

have to win is in the court system.

Cara:

But I also, I didn't know that much about church state law, you know, I thought

Cara:

that was a somewhat clear cut thing.

Cara:

And so I thought it was interesting, actually, how murky it was.

Cara:

And so I ended up getting really interested in that.

Cara:

And then, you know, probably to the point where I was like, well, this is

Cara:

not anything that people are going to read because to understand it, it gets

Cara:

it such a, you know, it's like so in the weeds to understand and parse out these

Cara:

different cases and why one is building on the other and why they're important.

Cara:

And so I was kind of presented with this challenge of feeling like this is

Cara:

extremely important and should be part of the history and also how do you get

Cara:

people to sort of read through this?

Cara:

Cause I think if you do understand that, all of these precedents, then

Cara:

when something like Carson versus Macon happens, then you understand.

Andy:

What Carson making is the main case.

Andy:

What it was about.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

I mean, it's the most recent case where the courts basically have said that not

Cara:

only are our school vouchers, okay, which is what Zelman was in 2002, but that,

Cara:

you know, if you're going to provide Sort of public benefits to secular

Cara:

private schools that you have to also provide it to religious private schools.

Cara:

Otherwise it's this issue of religious discrimination.

Andy:

That's based in more rural places where you sometimes have these

Andy:

tuition assistance programs to give people a broader range of choices

Andy:

because there's just a low density of public schools and schools overall.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

Sort of like where I grew up really.

Andy:

Right.

Andy:

And it was a challenge because , they didn't include sectarian schools maybe.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

And you have families who are saying, why can't I enroll my kid in a

Cara:

religious school when I can enroll them in this other private school?

Cara:

Which is an interesting question.

Cara:

But there's 30 some years of cases that sort of lead up to that point.

Cara:

And so, I was sort of trying to unravel that and understand

Cara:

the different ways that they.

Cara:

Sort of argued those cases because for a long time it was just establishment

Cara:

clause Arguments and now it's sort of more on this issue of religious

Cara:

discrimination and free exercise and and the tension between those two things.

Cara:

But one of the things I thought was really interesting was going way back.

Cara:

You know where I kind of where I started the book in the 50s.

Cara:

I thought it was really interesting that at that point in time and really

Cara:

up until you know 70s 80s there was this sense that the court was not at

Cara:

all going to allow any kind of really public support for private education.

Cara:

There was a big movement around Catholic schools, you know, because Catholic

Cara:

school enrollment was declining, schools were closing and there was some interest

Cara:

from lawmakers in different places to try to help those institutions.

Cara:

And really the courts were like, yeah, no, I think the Catholic

Cara:

schools, you know, provide this public service and they're good schools but

Cara:

ultimately it's advancing religion.

Cara:

We can't do it.

Cara:

And, you know, and so to see that evolve over time to now where it's like,

Cara:

no, you have to give support to those institutions or you're discriminated

Cara:

against, that's quite a journey, actually.

Cara:

And so I I was really interested in that.

Andy:

It really is.

Cara:

Yeah, I mean, it's really kind of stunning.

Andy:

It literally turned on its head.

Andy:

And I don't know that the rhetoric has caught up being something I noticed and

Andy:

maybe this is just more like social media debate but you hear a lot of people still

Andy:

talk about like the separation of church and state and education and this high

Andy:

wall and Like, you used to hear that even when you had Title I services being

Andy:

provided in parochial schools and all of that you still heard that and it was

Andy:

like, well, the wall's already been kind of penetrated to some, to some extent.

Andy:

And, but you still hear it now and it's like a fairly settled issue, it seems.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

Well, and the thing I thought was interesting when Carson versus Bacon

Cara:

happened, you know, was that some of the, so I'm not even just the

Cara:

Twitter debates, but some of the news coverage even was like, Oh, this is

Cara:

this crazy thing that has occurred under, under sort of the Roberts court.

Cara:

And it was like, not, not really though, guys, that's actually,

Cara:

you know, that that's actually.

Cara:

Something that's been kind of a slow journey over several decades,

Cara:

really, I mean, Rehnquist's court started moving in that direction and

Cara:

sort of carving the path, but that's been years and years in the making.

Andy:

As a journalist, does that make it because I feel like what you're what

Andy:

you're putting your finger on, there's an awful lot of presentism in the debate.

Andy:

You had a bunch of stuff happening during the Trump years that people

Andy:

like, Oh, my God, this is unprecedented.

Andy:

But it was stuff that was actually, like, quite precedent.

Andy:

It was, you know, these that link back to previous policies.

Andy:

I mean, that's I'm certainly not defending I mean, Trump did some stuff that I think

Andy:

is, he certainly argues unprecedented.

Andy:

But just on education, people would get spun up about stuff and you're like, this

Andy:

actually is, none of this is really new.

Andy:

These are just like longstanding debates, but they were kind of caught up in the

Andy:

sense of presidentism, as you said, like about like, that this is something

Andy:

the Roberts court cooked up at a whole cloth rather than like a, you know.

Andy:

Fairly long running argument with a lot of cases and so forth behind it.

Andy:

Is that hard as a reporter if you're trying to operate in a

Andy:

climate where, like, everything's seeming, everything's new?

Andy:

Oh, you know, new in air quotes?

Cara:

Yeah, I mean, I think it's frustrating in some ways.

Cara:

Because I think, I mean, it gets into some of the stuff that's going on, I

Cara:

think, in newspapers and journalism and sort of the decline of just the

Cara:

number of journalists out there, so a lot of times what you have are fairly

Cara:

young reporters covering things, and so sometimes I think people are not

Cara:

as familiar with some of the history.

Cara:

But I also think, you could probably, unless you are a courthouse reporter with

Cara:

a lot of background, you could probably be forgiven for not knowing all of the

Cara:

ins and outs of like church state history.

Cara:

But yeah, sometimes I see things and it's like, no, it's not actually this bold new

Cara:

thing, it's kind of the same old thing.

Cara:

It's just a different person.

Andy:

I'll give people a pass.

Andy:

I'll certainly forgive you if you don't know all the history.

Andy:

I expect everybody to be steeped in constitutional law, and, you know, if

Andy:

you're a reporter, like you need to, you know, understand like there was once

Andy:

a lemon test and this stuff, but like.

Andy:

I do think if you're writing about a Supreme Court case, you should

Andy:

understand if it's like genuinely new or if it's a continuation and sort of

Andy:

stands on the back of some earlier.

Cara:

Yeah, and also just what it actually does, because I think some

Cara:

of the school choice cases have been more limited in sort of scope, then

Cara:

the coverage would maybe suggest him.

Cara:

But it's sort of the breathless coverage sometimes I think is almost overstating

Cara:

what something has really done.

Cara:

So there's sort of two issues there, like understand the history of it.

Cara:

And then it's not the first, you know, this didn't just come out of left field.

Cara:

And then and then also sort of this It's really over the top breathless.

Cara:

Oh, my gosh, what have they done?

Cara:

It's like, not quite that

Andy:

well, it can confuse issues, right?

Andy:

Like, so, like, the Janice's case, people were so this breathless

Andy:

coverage that, like, this was the end for the teachers unions.

Andy:

And, like, it is certainly affecting their membership.

Andy:

And you're seeing sort of a slow membership decline.

Andy:

The reporting and a lot of commentary on it was like, this is it, this is,

Andy:

Like, and so the fact that, like, you know, the case came down in the

Andy:

summer and the teachers unions were still around in December, like, was

Andy:

like surprising people when, like, you should have, it was not how its

Andy:

impact was not going to work like that.

Andy:

It was going to be a process over time of how it affected them.

Andy:

But it was this sense of, like, oh, and then people kind of moved on.

Andy:

Like, oh, that was a big nothing when, in fact, it's actually shaping

Andy:

a lot of the politics around the sector in some pretty profound ways.

Cara:

Well, it's interesting because, so with Carson versus Macon, I mean, I did

Cara:

think some of the coverage was a little over the top and a little breathless.

Cara:

But at the same time, now we're looking at this possibility of religious charter

Cara:

schools and different ways that states are interpreting what that case is.

Cara:

And so, that is actually a fairly large effect, but it's sort of, it's like,

Cara:

okay, well, how do we square this?

Cara:

On the one hand, I thought some of this was a little over the top.

Cara:

And on the other hand, we're talking about religious charter schools.

Andy:

Well, it's I think you square it, but they didn't matter, right?

Andy:

Like my definition of Supreme Court case matters.

Andy:

I think it's the context.

Andy:

Sort of how it matters and how it came into being.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

And I think the idea that this just came out of nowhere from the

Cara:

Roberts court, that's just not true.

Andy:

And I think that just confused people, but it fit with this narrative,

Andy:

which was a weird narrative that, I mean, you say a lot of things about

Andy:

Donald Trump, but he's not a theocrat.

Andy:

Like, I don't think the guy, like, you know I doubt he's ever cracked the

Andy:

Bible, let alone like thought about it.

Andy:

So like the idea that he was trying to bring back a theocracy

Andy:

through this just didn't.

Andy:

It just seemed like just sort of like rhetoric, just like just rhetoric of

Andy:

the moment rather than like a deeply, any kind of deep political conviction.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

Well, and I don't think it has anything to do with Trump really, but I did think

Cara:

it was interesting to see the court sort of shift on this free exercise, you

Cara:

know, that because that is something that in the book, I write about Virgil

Cara:

Bloom, who was a person advocating, you know, he was advocating for vouchers

Cara:

in the very first in the fifties.

Cara:

And he was talking about free exercise and that this was an issue

Cara:

of religious discrimination decades before the court really was giving

Cara:

that any kind of serious consideration.

Cara:

And I know even in the 90s and when some of the court cases were playing

Cara:

out in Milwaukee and Cleveland, some of the school choice supporters who

Cara:

were involved in those cases didn't think they would win on free exercise.

Cara:

So it is interesting to see that it's gone that direction, I just think, you

Cara:

know, it's gone that direction slowly.

Andy:

I want to come back to Bloom in a second and that whole piece and Friedman

Andy:

and all that, because I think that, yeah, the beginning of the book and the end of

Andy:

the book, like kind of fit around that.

Andy:

But before that, there's a quick question, like you didn't get into housing much

Andy:

and as I was reading parts of the book, it was like, well this is actually like

Andy:

a, in some ways a story of housing and housing segregation and historic housing,

Andy:

redlining policies, the way, you know, school districts look the way they look

Andy:

and so forth for a reason, the lack of choice, talk about how do you see, like,

Andy:

these issues of housing and segregated housing, redlining, both formal redlining

Andy:

and now sort of often, you know, informal education, redlining and formal in terms

Andy:

of like school district boundaries.

Andy:

How does that fit into this whole story of choice?

Cara:

Yeah, so I wrote about this a little bit in the introduction because

Cara:

I was saying that some of the arguments for school choice are compelling and have

Cara:

power because of the sort of built in inequities in the public school system.

Cara:

Because if you can essentially buy a better resource school by virtue of

Cara:

where you live, then there's something wrong with how the public school system

Cara:

Is organized and put together, you know, and some of that makes sense, because if

Cara:

you have kids living in a certain area, you need to have a school for them, you

Cara:

know, just structurally, that makes sense.

Cara:

But I think that, you know, when you have places where you can get in trouble

Cara:

and get arrested in some cases for sending your kid to a public school that

Cara:

they're not zoned for based on where they live, That's wild, you know, I

Cara:

mean, that's just wrong in a lot of ways.

Cara:

And I think it gives power to some of that argument for choice.

Cara:

You know, the other thing that's interesting about school choice

Cara:

to me is that if no one takes you up on any of these choices, Then

Cara:

there is no power to it at all.

Cara:

You know, if no one actually finds them worth choosing, if the

Cara:

charter school doesn't get anyone to come, then it has no power at all.

Cara:

And I think that's sort of interesting in itself.

Cara:

But this, this idea of housing, I think that's sort of a subtext because, you

Cara:

know, I'm, I say in the introduction that this is one of the things that

Cara:

sort of gives Power to the idea.

Cara:

But then you also see this in the segregation years, when people talk

Cara:

about segregationists use school vouchers, you know, try to get around

Cara:

Brown versus board to try to get around desegregating their public schools.

Cara:

They used a lot of things.

Cara:

It's not just school vouchers.

Cara:

They used attendance boundaries, they use admissions criteria.

Cara:

They used actually a lot of things that are still very much present

Cara:

in our public school system.

Cara:

And I tried to sort of point those things out because I think it makes the

Cara:

argument around that more complicated.

Andy:

I thought you did a good job with that, because the debate does

Andy:

seem to run one way vouchers were a segregationist tool, which is true.

Andy:

But so were lots of these other things that nobody says boo about.

Cara:

Yeah, lots of things.

Cara:

They tried everything.

Cara:

They weren't just doing the one thing.

Cara:

They tried everything.

Cara:

So I thought that was interesting too, because it

Cara:

complicates things a little bit.

Cara:

You know, if you can use attendance boundaries to segregate your schools,

Cara:

and if you can use admissions criteria.

Cara:

Well, in a lot of ways, we're still doing that.

Cara:

And other communities did that, too.

Cara:

And I thought that was part of the reason that Milwaukee ends up with vouchers,

Cara:

it's part of the reason that Cleveland does, because those school systems had

Cara:

segregation and under resourced schools and had cases involved, you know, like,

Cara:

so it's not just an issue in the South.

Cara:

And I felt like that also is still very much present in our current

Cara:

public school system, we just talk about it a little differently.

Cara:

And that's kind of an inescapable fact.

Cara:

And I think, again, on messaging school choice supporters are really

Cara:

good at playing those things up and pointing those things out.

Cara:

And the opposition is not, I think, as good at answering those charges.

Andy:

Well, I think they're not as good at answering them because

Andy:

they don't necessarily, there's not a coherent argument there.

Andy:

You sort of can't be for equity and against sort of structural racism or

Andy:

the present day contemporary effects of historic racism, and not have something

Andy:

pretty profound to say about the public schools and everything you just

Andy:

said, like, if you have means you can buy your way out of it and so forth.

Andy:

Intellectually, they're sort of stuck in that box canyon and sort

Andy:

of haven't figured out a way, and that's why I think school choice

Andy:

supporters have the upper hand.

Andy:

So, on that, two quick final questions, one probably won't be quick, because

Andy:

it gets to the core of the book, but at the beginning, you talk about

Andy:

Virgil Bloom, you talk about Milton Friedman and others, and I think

Andy:

what's really interesting about those people in particular, They were aware

Andy:

that some of the things they were advocating would have adverse effects,

Andy:

but they were like, it's worth it.

Andy:

Like it's that's the price.

Andy:

And they were sort of comfortable with those trade offs at

Andy:

a pretty profound level.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

I mean, I think Milton Friedman's interesting because he was

Cara:

just very honest about it.

Cara:

He thought that there should be fewer public schools, you know, and he's a

Cara:

libertarian economist, so he thought that business was more efficient than

Cara:

government, you know, and that if you had a marketplace where parents could

Cara:

essentially, you know, buy education for their kids, that some schools would open,

Cara:

that would be bad, but other schools would open, that would be good, and that, You

Cara:

know, over time, this would drive some sort of improvement that there would be,

Cara:

he called it this flowering of schools that would open, and I think that's

Cara:

kind of interesting because he was just very clear that he thought having fewer

Cara:

public schools would actually be better.

Cara:

And he also, you know, he exchanged letters with Virgil Bloom, as two

Cara:

people who supported school vouchers around the same time, but with different

Cara:

sort of intentions for him, and he was honest with Bloom, too, in saying,

Cara:

you know, this might actually not be good for Catholic schools because

Cara:

you'll have different competitors.

Cara:

And I thought that was sort of interesting that he wasn't necessarily like, Hey,

Cara:

let's get together as voucher supporters.

Cara:

He was like, I've got to tell you, this might not be good for your interests.

Cara:

I just thought that was sort of interesting that.

Andy:

He was, I interviewed him once about this.

Andy:

He was maddingly, sometimes open asset, maddingly consistent, like

Andy:

whether you agree with him or not on many things I didn't, but like,

Andy:

just like, just admirably consistent.

Andy:

Most people try to like fuzzy up the dark undersides of some

Andy:

of the policies they support.

Andy:

And that's, again, that's not a right left statement,that's everyone.

Cara:

That's politics.

Andy:

Yeah, exactly.

Andy:

But he just like very forthright and kind of leaned into them.

Cara:

Yeah.

Cara:

I thought he was a fascinating guy because he just was committed to what he believed

Cara:

and he wasn't necessarily trying to convince you, in a sort of slick political

Cara:

way, he just, he thought this is better.

Cara:

And my argument makes more sense than yours.

Cara:

And he just, he enjoyed debating, but ultimately he didn't change his mind.

Cara:

He didn't, you know, I mean, he didn't like some of the first

Cara:

school voucher programs because they were only for low income children.

Cara:

And he thought if it's good for one kid, it's good for all kids.

Cara:

You know, this isn't, I just thought it was, he was such an interesting

Cara:

guy that 50 years later, he still basically believed the same thing.

Andy:

But there are people like Jack Koons feels, he thinks Freeman sent

Andy:

school choice back decades because it got tied up in the free to choose

Andy:

frame and the TV show and became, and so like Jack feels like if you had the

Andy:

more progressive orientation on it, that it would've got a lot further,

Andy:

and you wouldn't have some of the left right politics that you have right now.

Cara:

I don't know, not to disagree with Jack Coons, who's a lovely person

Cara:

who talked to me after,, yes, he's a lovely guy who took my call after he had

Cara:

actually been seriously injured and I was like, why are you calling me back?

Cara:

Like, go and rest or something.

Andy:

He's a very caring person.

Cara:

Yeah, he cares that much.

Cara:

And he actually also seems to enjoy debate, though, because he

Cara:

was telling me with great delight about arguing with Milton Friedman.

Andy:

They were in Chicago together, and there was a wall there for a while.

Cara:

Yeah, I thought that was kind of fun, you know, some of the points of

Cara:

where people would, would agree about sort of the idea that we need this thing,

Cara:

but not how you would implement it.

Cara:

I thought, I'm a nerd, but I thought that was super fun.

Cara:

Some of those things, but I don't know if I agree with him anyhow, because it

Cara:

seems like the places where people tried this sort of progressive idea, you know,

Cara:

with not just with Kunz and Sugarman, but with Christopher Jenks, sometimes it

Cara:

fell down in the, it's complicated part.

Cara:

You know, like the, how are we actually going to implement this and all of

Cara:

these, like, oh, we could have a sliding scale and we can do this and that.

Cara:

I think sometimes that's where the messaging didn't.

Cara:

necessarily work out.

Cara:

Whereas the Friedman concept was pretty easy to understand.

Cara:

You might disagree with it, but it was pretty easy to understand.

Cara:

So I don't know if I agree with that.

Andy:

I think I agree a little more with Jack.

Andy:

I think the left right argument seems to be like, that's like the only thing that

Andy:

opponents of school choice really have is they make this partisan and this is what

Andy:

Republicans are for, it's a very sort of reactionary politics, there's not a

Andy:

positive alternative vision around choice.

Andy:

And I think if you could change those politics, it would look different.

Andy:

But let me ask you, so last question, I mean, I have to ask,

Andy:

like, because of the title, you said it wasn't your title, but...

Cara:

Oh, no, no.

Cara:

I mean, I didn't let them, like, put a title on the book that I didn't agree.

Andy:

But is this the death of, Kara, is this the death of public schools?

Cara:

Well, so, you know, I think it raises that question and I think some

Cara:

of it is in this area of sort of how Republicans and Democrats define public

Cara:

education, you know, because I think right now what Florida is doing, you

Cara:

know, I visited a micro school a week ago and what Florida is doing is, you

Cara:

could say it's public education, they're putting a lot of public dollars into

Cara:

paying for all of these different things, but it's not public school, right?

Cara:

That micro school I went to 80 percent of the kids had state dollars to go there.

Cara:

You could say that's a public education that they're getting.

Cara:

You know, the state is ready for that, but that's not a public school.

Cara:

And so I meant it kind of to be more profound than just enrollment numbers.

Cara:

And you know, that the public school system is in like a death spiral.

Cara:

But I, I think the fact that we are now in this place where you can talk about

Cara:

Florida, having such a different model of what could be called public education

Cara:

than, like, where I grew up in Washington, that, to me, is a profound change

Cara:

from, you know, when Milton Friedman first started talking about it in 1955.

Andy:

Yeah, I think that's a great, that's a great place to leave because

Andy:

I do think it is definitely public education is going to change and is

Andy:

changing and has profoundly change and how it's provided and so forth, like,

Andy:

whether that's good and actually ends up helping address some of these long

Andy:

standing problems of equity, whether that makes them worse or makes no difference.

Andy:

I think the jury is still out, but like, I think that's a like it is.

Andy:

It seems indisputable that things are changing how we think of public education

Andy:

and the relationship of families to public schools and so forth is changing

Andy:

is going to continue to change.

Cara:

Yeah, that's where I, you know, that's where I round up.

Cara:

That was my conclusion.

Andy:

Well, the book is The Death of Public School by

Andy:

Cara Fitzpatrick of Chalkbeat.

Andy:

It's a fantastic read, a lot of history that I suspect will be really interesting

Andy:

and engaging for a lot of readers.

Andy:

A lot of history about my state of Virginia that's not well known even now.

Andy:

And so, a terrific contribution of literature, The Death of Public Schools.

Andy:

Thank you, Kara, for taking some time with Wonky Folk.

Cara:

Thanks for having me.

Andy:

And you got me out of the doghouse.

Andy:

I did one last time with Morgan Polikoff.

Andy:

We didn't talk about choice at all.

Andy:

And so I think having a full on, you know, a full on episode on choice

Andy:

will get me back in Jed's good graces.

Cara:

We'll see.

Andy:

Thanks so much for your time.

Andy:

I really appreciate it.

Andy:

Happy Halloween.

Cara:

Thank you.

Cara:

Thanks.

Cara:

You too.