Sir, I have a bit of a bone to pick with you about your recent comments during the confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. I hope you’ll kindly indulge me for just a moment to correct you on some of the things you said and perhaps more importantly, things you left out, during your time with the microphone.
You basically took it upon yourself to condemn Indiana’s school choice program on a national stage. But I live in Indiana. I’m a mom. And I’ve exercised school choice in Indiana. And I must say, you got a lot wrong, Senator. You should really speak to your staff about that.
Here’s what you said:
“Basically what was happening is we were taking money from poor kids needing resources and giving it to middle class kids to continue going to religious school.”
This statement is proof that you either do not understand school funding or made the choice to deliberately mislead the public. If, as you claim, the children are middle class children from the suburbs, then their per pupil dollars would reduce the money at their suburban schools, not the urban schools you claim are losing all the money.
And perhaps even more glaring is that you totally failed to mention that Indiana’s poor and minority children have been under-educated for decades. And for generations. This is precisely why school choice came to be in Indiana. I have two children graduating in a little over a year and when they started high school every Indianapolis Public school had a D or F rating.
Would you, Mr. Franken, put your child in a school with a D or F rating? Would you expect your friends or Senate colleagues to put their children in a school with a D or F rating?
We all know the answer, sir, because your children attended a school that costs more than $40,000 per year, a school known for educating celebrities and the children of royalty. Literally, people who wear crowns on their heads.
Here’s an excerpt to help you see your own hypocrisy, in case you missed it:
“Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s two children attend Dalton School, described by the liberal-leaning Daily Beast as “one of New York’s most exclusive and rigorous private schools and boasts an impressive roster of celebrity alumni, including Anderson Cooper and Clair Danes.” Dalton’s application asks parents to list any prestigious titles they told, including, “Princess, Senator and Ambassador,” according to The Daily Beast.
“Franken describes Dalton as “a very high-powered, expensive New York City private high school.” How expensive? Dalton’s tuition is currently $44,640 a year.”
So, Senator, with due respect, you really don’t have much standing to criticize Indiana’s school choice program while ignoring the fact that urban school districts were failing to provide quality education long before charter schools or vouchers were even a thing. Year after year, the people of Indiana have been paying taxes to a system that has under-educated an entire generation while at the same time, they’ve watched crime and incarceration in these same neighborhoods increase.
I suppose I’m somehow misguided in your mind, Mr. Senator, for not giving the D and F schools in my zip code a chance with my children. Is that because I never worked for Saturday Night Live, because I’m black, because I’m not part of the Who’s Who of American high society? I guess you think it’s okay that without school choice, I would have been obligated to send my children to lousy schools.
If your issue is that not enough families have access to quality education, then we agree. I have spent years adjusting my work schedule and jumping through logistical hoops to make the school choice thing work. So I agree that lawmakers need to make vouchers and charter schools more accessible to more families in Indiana.
My question to you, Senator Franken, is how in the world have you and those before you been willing and able to sit by while black and brown and poor children have been trapped in underperforming schools? Whether in your state of Minnesota or my state of Indiana, there is an injustice right before your eyes that you are ignoring. I assume you realize that the fancy Dalton School you are used to isn’t really what school is like for regular Americans like me. I certainly hope you realize that.
Sir, we need you to fix the problem, not lecture us from your high perch about how you don’t agree with us being allowed to have options.
My family is a choice family. We are not anti public school; on the contrary, we are pro quality education no matter where it exists. And while I am pleased to see improvements in the Indianapolis Public Schools, it has come too late for my children. So I am most grateful to have been able to educate my children at a high quality Christian school that has prepared them in content and character. I’ll bet that the Dalton school prepared your children in lots of ways that make you grateful and proud.
Senator Franken, I realize that you have wealth and this all may be an exercise in pretending to solve problems that won’t ever affect you. But this is my life. And my kids.
So please work harder to get it right. We know you love jokes. But this is serious business and so far, you are getting it wrong.
Cheryl Kirk, Indianapolis resident, nurse, and mother of 3.