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US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, Opponent of Vouchers, Sending Kids to Private School


John Burger - published on 07/16/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Reserves school choice for his own family

President Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, who has been no champion of school vouchers, is sending his two daughters to a prestigious private school, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. 

Duncan’s wife, Karen, and their two daughters returned to Chicago with the children to attend the private University of Chicago Lab School. Duncan will keep working in Obama’s cabinet but commute to Chicago to be with his family.

The Duncans’ choice of school has some crying foul, since the education secretary has stood in the way of vouchers in the past. He allegedly sat on a report praising voucher programs as Congress proceeded to kill the DC Opportunity Program in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal. According to the same paper, Duncan continues to fight vouchers for private schools:

Mr. Duncan’s choice is all the more striking since he used to run the Chicago public schools. He also stood aside in 2009 when Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin managed to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington until Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Congress revived it.

The Education Secretary was also a muted voice when the Obama Justice Department filed a lawsuit aimed at scuttling Louisiana’s innovative voucher program. And he was silent again when the Colorado Supreme Court recently invoked a leftover of 19th-century bigotry—its anti-Catholic Blaine amendment—to stop students from receiving vouchers for private schools. 

The Duncans have had their kids in a public school in the Washington area since Obama appointed him as Secretary of Education. But now, with a year and a half left in Obama’s second term, Duncan’s wife has taken a job with the University of Chicago Laboratory School, where she had worked previously as athletic director.

Duncan himself is a Lab School alum, and the Obama daughters attended the $30,000-a-year school before moving to Washington.

In 2009, the US Department of Education sat on a performance review of the D.C. voucher program while Congress debated its future. Had it been released in time, Congress might have learned that the program, which provided $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools, showed statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population. As the Journal reported:

Children attending private schools with the aid of the scholarships are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who did not receive vouchers. Voucher recipients are doing no better in math but they’re doing no worse. Which means that no voucher participant is in worse academic shape than before, and many students are much better off.

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