On Thursday evening, Attorney General William Barr lit a cultural fuse.
“People talk about implicit racism or systemic racism: [for] the racism in this country, look no further than our public education system,” the attorney general declared.
“That’s a racist system maintained by the Democratic Party and the teachers’ unions,” he continued, “keeping inner-city kids in failing schools instead of putting the resources in the hands of the parents to choose the schools to send their kids to. That’s empowering kids, that’s giving them a future.”
The greatest opposition to charter schools in this country is the teachers’ unions. They fear, rightly, that public schools do not measure up to most charter schools and, thus, it makes the public schools—and the teachers’ unions—look bad.
The first priority of all monopolies is always to protect their monopoly.
And monopolies are always economic evils (although some are what economists call “natural monopolies,” such as electric utilities, are tightly regulated by local and state governments). The reason they are evil is that they prevent competition, and it is competition—capitalism’s secret weapon—that forces noses to grindstones.
No one works harder than they must to achieve their goals (lions get their supper by chasing the slow zebras, not the fast ones). So, if the customers have no choice where to shop, the shop-owner is not going to try hard to please them. Visit a state Department of Motor Vehicles, and you’ll see what I mean.
With competition, economic entities, whether for-profit or non-profit, are forced to work hard, to experiment, and to innovate. That’s why the post-war West was a cornucopia of innovations—most significantly, perhaps, the transistor, the laser, and the microprocessor—that have utterly transformed the world for the better. In the same period, the vast Communist world produced only two significant inventions: the soft contact lens, invented by a Czech ophthalmologist (the Czech government sold the patent to Bausch and Lomb, the doctor got nothing), and Rubik’s Cube.
People instinctively understand that competition produces better outcomes. That’s why the strongest proponents of charter schools are the parents living in inner cities, many of whom are black. They live where the public schools are at their worst and understand that charter schools would force those institutions to up their game.
This constituency has voted solidly Democratic since the New Deal. But the Democratic Party is programmatically opposed to charter schools because of the teachers’ unions, which are a powerful influence in the party.
This is a golden opportunity for the Republicans, who support charter schools as much as the Democrats oppose them. A messaging campaign directed at parents who are underserved by their public schools amid the pandemic could engineer an electoral earthquake, especially in swing states with large cities, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania–both of which Trump carried very narrowly in 2016.
Trump won only 8 percent of the black vote that year. If he could up that to just 16 percent, it would make a very big difference.