The Parent Revolution with Corey DeAngelis

The following is a conversation between Profectus co-editor Justin Callais and Corey DeAngelis, author of the new book “The Parent Revolution: Rescuing Your Kids from the Radicals Ruining Our Schools.” The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Justin Callais: Thank you for listening to this edition of the Profectus Podcast. Profectus Magazine is dedicated to kickstarting a conversation about the key drivers of human flourishing, progress, and the barriers that prevent individuals from reaching their full potential. I’m Justin Callais, co-editor of Profectus Magazine, and today I’m joined by none other than Corey DeAngelis. Corey is a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children and a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

He’s been labeled “the school choice evangelist” and “the most effective school choice advocate since Milton Friedman,” which is a pretty pronounced statement. He is also the author of the new book, “The Parent Revolution: Rescuing Your Kids from the Radicals Ruining Our Schools,” which is the topic of our conversation today.

Corey, thank you for joining me.

Corey DeAngelis: Hey, Justin, thanks for having me.

Justin Callais: I’m very excited about this conversation. I find this idea very fascinating, and I enjoyed the book a lot. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on a couple of different angles of this parent revolution. For example, in Archbridge’s Social Mobility of the 50 States report that Gonzalo Schwartz and I did, one of the key indicators that we used for measuring mobility in the Education/Skills Development space was education freedom. It’s clear that this is something that parents value for their children, so I’m very interested in learning more in this conversation.

So, to kind of kick things off, can you tell me a little bit about why you chose school choice and education as your area of expertise? What about it made you most interested, and why did you write the book? What’s the background of it?

Corey DeAngelis: Yeah. I got into policy as a libertarian, so very skeptical of government overreach and monopolies. And nowhere more in society are monopolies more problematic than the one-size-fits-all government-run school system. We are assigned to schools based on where we live. We have to pay for them through property taxes and other tax sources, and if you want to get something else, you got to move houses or pay out-of-pocket, basically paying twice.

Just imagine if you were assigned to your nearest grocery store and in order to get something else, if they were serving you rotten food or you were getting food poisoning every week—or maybe like in other socialist countries, they actually had empty shelves—well, they’d have no incentive to provide you with better services if they had a monopoly over your money and you couldn’t go somewhere else. If you had to get up and move houses to go to another grocery store, that would make zero sense.

So I actually got into—my bachelor’s and my master’s was actually in economics—and so the problems of monopoly power were made very clear to me as I was doing my studies in college, and then I ended up doing a PhD in education policy out of that desire to look into school choice as a solution to monopoly power and education. And my first study at the University of Arkansas, where I did my PhD, it linked the Milwaukee Voucher Program that started in 1990 to crime reduction. It was a pretty significant finding, about a 50 percent reduction associated with using the program when it came to drug-related crimes, for example.

And these non-test score benefits of school choice started to become really interesting to me. I started to look at how this could improve tolerance of others’ views, how it could improve mental health, how getting to choose a better education could lead to more safety for students, too. Things that aren’t captured by standardized test scores, which really has come full circle with “The Parent Revolution,” my new book.

The reason why we’ve seen so much advancement on education freedom lately, it hasn’t really been around standardized test scores. That’s part of it. The unions overplayed their hand and awakened the sleeping giant, which happens to be parents, when they fought to keep the schools closed. The unions lobbied the CDC to make it more difficult to reopen schools. They were threatening strikes in 2020 over reopening schools. Randi Weingarten, who I dedicated the book to, for overplaying her hand and inadvertently doing more to advance school choice and homeschooling than anyone could ever imagine, she called the President’s plan to reopen schools, “reckless, callous, and cruel.”

They were fear-mongering every step of the way. Meanwhile, the private schools were open, private daycares were open, private businesses were open. In fact, in Sacramento, in California, there was a stupid health order that applied to schools that had to be closed, but not daycares, because COVID was smart. It knew that if you were learning something, even if you were in the same building, it was going to turn on. It was going to get you.

Justin Callais: Wow.

Corey DeAngelis: It’s kind of like in the airplanes; the virus wasn’t just smart, it was actually courteous, too. It knew when you were eating on the airplane. Well, it needed to just, “Okay, I’m going to let you go. I’m just going to let you continue to eat your meal, and then we’ll get back to business.”

But, there was actually a private Christian school in Sacramento that realized that this made no sense whatsoever. The health order was simply a way for the public school monopoly to protect itself so that families couldn’t vote with their feet to private providers that were already open. But the private school actually rebranded itself as a daycare. It retrained all of its employees as daycare workers, and that just goes to show you that the incentives are completely backwards in the government school system.

It wasn’t just that they could keep their money and their jobs. It was that they knew that they could actually profit from keeping their doors closed because they knew they could say, “Hey, I could use this as leverage.” We’re not open, because, why? Well, we need more money. It’s the same; it’s a definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

So, when they failed based on test scores, they always said, “We need more money.” Of course they need more money. That’s the only solution they ever bring to the table. But throwing more money at a problem when you have no incentive to spend those additional dollars wisely is never going to fix that problem. And they got $190 billion in so-called COVID relief since March of 2020, so it worked for them in the short run, but thankfully their plan quickly backfired because this allowed families to see what the hell was going on in the classroom.

Parents who thought things were okay based on the test scores started to see another dimension of school quality that’s arguably more important, which is whether the school’s curriculum aligns with families’ values. And that has sparked a parent revolution. They’ve become a new interest group, more of a general interest than a special interest, but the parents are representing their own kids. They’re taking that energy to the ballot box and holding politicians accountable like we’ve never seen before.

Justin Callais: Well, that’s all very interesting. That was a really good introduction. I’m going to go off of something you said, which was in economics we have this term “voting with your feet.” So, can you give a little more detail as to how this relates to charter schools and education savings accounts and everything kind of that you’ve outlined so far?

Corey DeAngelis: Yeah. In the traditional system, you are assigned to a school based on where you live. In the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics, we spend about $19,999 per student per year, nearly $20,000 per year per student in the government-run schools, and if you want to go somewhere else, that money just stays in the government schools. You can’t take any of that money with you. But with school choice, one, if you like your public school, you can keep your public school. You can continue to send your children to that assigned school, and all that money will continue to go there. But if not, for whatever reason, in states like Arizona now, you can take a portion of that money to the school that best meets your needs and aligns with your values.

So, in Arizona, for example, average spending is about $14,000-$15,000 per kid per year. The scholarship amount is about half of that, about $7,000 or $8,000 per student per year, and that money can follow the student to a private school; it could also follow them to a charter school; it could follow them to even a homeschool co-op or a micro-school. You can use the funding for homeschool curriculum if you want. It’s the concept of the money following the child.

It’s a win-win solution, too, because it’s obviously a win for families. They get to choose a school that works for them. It’s not compulsory. You can stay in the public school if that’s the best option in your eyes. But the other benefit is that through being able to vote with your feet, the public schools have an incentive to up their game in response to competition. And we’ve had 29 studies on this topic nationwide; 26 of those 29 studies, guess what? They find positive effects of private school choice competition on the outcomes in the public schools.

One example of this is in Florida. A couple of decades ago, Florida was horrible on the nation’s report card. They were at the bottom of the pack. Now, as they’ve expanded school choice over the past couple of decades and now most recently passing universal school choice in 2023, they’re number one on the U.S. News and World Report rankings this year on education, despite spending far less than the national average in the state of Florida per student in their public schools per year. They’re now at the top of the pack on the nation’s report card, even after you control for demographic differences across states.

The Urban Institute has a little tool called America’s Gradebook, where they compare states on the nation’s report card math and reading scores after controlling for differences in students across states. So, that’s one example. Florida has shown that you can empower parents with choice while also improving the public schools.

And as I mentioned in the book, the defenders of the status quo will say that the public schools are super accountable with regulations and red tape, because families can show up at school board meetings. Well, we saw that that didn’t work. That’s a fairy tale model of democracy that does not actually work in the real world.

When families were upset with critical race theory and gender ideology that they saw through Zoom school, through remote learning—which, look, we really should have just called it remotely learning, not a lot of learning was going on—but families saw what was happening in the schools, and they said, “Well, I’ve always been told that if I just go to the school board meeting and talk about it, then they’ll just listen to me.” Well, they didn’t listen to them. They tried to bully and silence parents into submission. They cut their mics off. And in one case, most egregious case, you had the National School Boards Association send a letter to the Biden administration implying that under the Patriot Act parents should be investigated for “domestic terrorism.” They tried to bully and silence parents into submission.

Justin Callais: Wow.

Corey DeAngelis: Thankfully, that plan backfired too. Since then, 26 states have pulled their funding from the National School Boards Association. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. But that also goes to show you that parents, when they band together, they can become a political juggernaut, a political force to be reckoned with.

And I want to mention, real quick, that even if you’re not a parent today or even a grandparent, the parent revolution should be important to you as well because the radical left socialists have understood that for a long time, that they don’t even have to have their own kids and they can still control the direction of the future of the country through educating or indoctrinating other people’s children and raising them for them for 13 years of their lives, for seven hours a day, in government schools where they teach everybody to learn that big government is the solution to all of their problems.

So, let’s say you’re interested in tax policy and nothing else. This book is for you, too, because if kids go through these systems learning that big government’s the solution, they’re going to vote to raise your taxes in the future. And so, you can’t win this war just by outpopulating the left, because they’re educating other people’s children through the government school system.

Justin Callais: Yeah, well, I think there’s a lot there, but I think one of the things I like the most in that was the part about the competition, right? That if you provide competition in these markets, in education markets, you’re not only going to give parents and people opportunities to choose where they want to go, but also you’re making an incentive to making those other schools better. It’s not the argument that a lot of people make of, “You’re draining funds from public schools […] to go to these private schools.” Well, that’s only true if the public schools aren’t keeping up. And I think Florida, like you mentioned, is a great example.

Corey DeAngelis: Exactly. Which gets me to a point that you brought me back to. I go off on tangents sometimes, and I never make it back.

Justin Callais: Same.

Corey DeAngelis: But to close the loop on that, when the school boards understand that you have real agency, when you have leverage in that conversation, they won’t try to bully you or label you as an evil person. They won’t view you as a nuisance. They’ll view you as a customer, as a partner in the relationship. And so if families can say, “Hey, if you don’t listen to me, and if you cut off my mic, I might take my $20,000 somewhere else to a school that is going to listen to me,” well, then the public schools would have an incentive to listen as well.

And almost counterintuitively, when you have school choice, the need to change schools is almost less likely to occur or play out because if they don’t listen to you, then you’re really going to want to switch. But if you have power to switch and the schools start to respond, you won’t have to move at all. You can stay in the public schools if they start to improve. And if they start to focus on the basics, as opposed to politically divisive concepts, whether that’s too far on the left or too far on the right, they’ll have an incentive in an open market to not focus on any politically divisive topics at all, whether if they’re too far left or too far right, because they don’t want to upset any parents, whether they’re on the left or the right.

And I also think that the top down “solutions” that have been proposed in some red states, I don’t think that’s enough either. You can’t just ban divisive concepts and call it a day, because one, it’s unenforceable. We’ve had undercover videos in my home state in Texas and other red states like Iowa, Tennessee, Idaho, Utah, and other places where they’ve banned critical race theory, for example, and the public school officials are on camera admitting that they will still teach it anyway but call it something else. So, it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. They move the goalposts. They might call it social-emotional learning or student mental health services.

Look, at the end of the day, it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, and the only way that we’re going to be able to get out of this mess of a one-size-fits-all system through freedom as opposed to force is by allowing shoes to vote with their feet to schools that meet their needs and align with their values. It’s okay that parents are going to disagree about how they want to raise their kids. The problem is, with a one-size-fits-all government system of schools, we force millions of families to send their children to these institutions where you’re going to have some families that aren’t happy with the curriculum, whatever it is. And even if a divisive concept is not in the curriculum explicitly, you still have pedagogy, which is different from curriculum. The teachers might teach through a CRT lens or other types of a lens that you don’t agree with.

The problem is when you have a special interest, the teachers’ unions, controlling the minds of other people’s children. Yes, they have a monopoly on the funding, but they also have a monopoly on molding the minds of other people’s kids. Millions of kids, 45-50 million kids a year, are churned through the government school system. And look, at the end of the day, if the schools are doing a good job, if families still want to send their kids to the public school, I don’t disagree with that at all.

I also go in the book through different policy areas of how you can tweak the public schools to improve them. Let’s have more curriculum transparency. Let’s have transparency in the funding. Is it going towards the classroom, or is it going towards administrative bloat? And we do have some evidence at the national level that since 2000, the number of teachers in the system and students only increased by about 7 percent. But the number of administrators in the system increased over the same period by 90 percent. It’s become more of a jobs program for adults than an education initiative for kids. And the only way to make the schools have an incentive to listen to the families and cater to their needs as opposed to the other way around is to have the money follow the child.

And thankfully, since 2021, 11 states have now passed Milton Friedman’s vision of universal school choice. That’s more movement on the school choice front in the past three years than in the preceding three decades. It’s hard to overstate how much winning we’re doing.

Corey DeAngelis: Justin, we’re winning so much I’m almost getting tired of winning. Not. We’re not done yet. We’ve got to get to all 50 states and unleash education freedom for all.

Justin Callais: No, those are all really great points. So, let’s say you had the magic wand. You could do whatever you wanted. What does your school choice vision look like? And I know you mentioned 11 states have passed sort of universal school choice, so what are some of the states that have best emulated that, in your opinion?

Corey DeAngelis: I’d say Arizona is the land of education freedom. So, they’ve had education savings accounts for a long time. Most people understand Milton Friedman’s voucher idea, right? Where the money that would have followed you to the government school, it could still go there if you want, but if not, you could take it in the form of a voucher to pay for private school tuition and fees. But later on in his life, Milton Friedman talked about something I believe he called multi-use vouchers, or something along those lines, where you could use it for homeschool curriculum and other related services.

And we now have that in Arizona. They passed their first education savings account program in 2012, so it’s been around for quite a while and it’s worked on the ground for quite a while, but in 2022, they expanded it to all families. No more picking winners and losers. Everybody can now take their state-funded education dollars to the education provider of their choosing. Whether that’s the public school, if not, that money—about $7,000—goes into a parent-directed education savings account.

Kind of like a health savings account, you can only use it for health expenses. For education savings account, that money that would have followed you to the government school can be directed by the parent used for any approved education expenditure. So you can’t use it just for random things; it’s education broadly defined: homeschool curriculum, micro-schools—people were calling these pandemic pods where 10 kids get together in a household during the COVID era, which is a really interesting story about spontaneous order for the economists on the call.

The government schools all closed down, and there was no bureaucrat that told people how to figure things out. They basically told them, “Good luck,” and parents started to spontaneously get together in these Facebook groups to try to figure out how to homeschool together. And they created these micro-schools, or what they were calling pandemic pods, basically re-envisioning the one-room schoolhouse.

And now in Arizona, you even have families using the education savings account funding to pay for these micro-schools. They have one that’s so successful, it’s called Prenda Microschools. It’s so successful that the NEA, the largest teachers’ union in the country, put an opposition research sheet together during the COVID era on Kelly Smith, their founder, and Prenda Microschools more broadly, because they saw that so many families wanted to use them. They got the benefits of homeschooling, because it’s a smaller one-on-one scenario in a home or closer to one-on-one, and they got the benefits of having socialization with other children that they selected into, that they agreed with, and that their values matched with those families as well.

Justin Callais: Right. Because if you could bring that $17,000-$18,000, however much it is, you get 10 students together, the teacher is going to make a lot more than they will in any school. And that goes back to what you were saying earlier about the administrative bloat that you’re seeing. Also at the university level, right? That university funding is going up, but faculty or the number of faculty spots have not risen nearly in accordance; most of the bloat is going towards administrators, which administrators play a role, right? But to see it outgrow with that large of a pace relative to teachers and educators, it is concerning to say the least. Something is going on.

Corey DeAngelis: Yeah, and Randy Weingarten [and] Becky Pringle make over $500,000 a year, the heads of the AFT and the NEA, the two largest teachers’ unions in the country. And if you look at teacher salaries over time in the U.S., well, if you just look at spending, I mean, we throw more money at the problem than we’ve ever seen before since 1970. Per student education expenditures, after adjusting for inflation, have increased by about 170 percent. Teacher salaries over the same period have only increased by about 10 percent in real terms, and so where’s all the money going? It’s not going to teachers that are already doing a good job. The unions exist to protect the lowest common denominator, and they just hire more people because that means more dues-paying members to pay people like Randy Weingarten who make over $500,000 a year.

Look, when they hire more people, they get more dues because that’s another dues-paying member. Whereas if they were to spend that money on salary increases, they wouldn’t see that benefit in terms of more revenues. And they also see that they have more foot soldiers in the system with their political pet projects as well. They want a larger voting block as the other benefit. But the teachers’ unions, they’re bad for students, obviously, but they’re also bad for the teachers.

One, they make them look bad. Over COVID, it was just ridiculous. I mean, the lengths that they went to hold children’s education hostage was insane. I did dedicate the book to Randy Weingarten. You can also take Senator Ted Cruz from Texas, his advice on the back. He says, you can quote, “Ruin Randy Weingarten’s day by reading this book.” Make it another national bestseller, and she’ll be very unhappy about that.

Justin Callais: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s some sort of rebuttal or response. One thing I was curious about is why do you think school choice does not perfectly cross the right-left or Republican-Democrat dynamic? Do you find any group similarities amongst the Democrats who support school choice? And on the opposite side, do you find similarities with Republicans who don’t support school choice?

Corey DeAngelis: Look, voters of all backgrounds support school choice. Look at the families who benefit from school choice, too. You have Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The latest Real Clear Opinion research polling found supermajority support for school choice among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents with overall support at about 71 percent of Americans broadly supporting the concept of school choice. The problem is one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers’ unions, the Democrats.

You look at Randy Weingarten’s union, AFT. In 2022, 99.97 percent of the campaign contributions from Randy Weingarten’s teachers’ union went to Democrats in 2022. It’s been like that for decades. It’s a complex money laundering scheme. It ought to be illegal. But politicians respond, unfortunately, more to politics and power than they do to logic and morality. And so, even if Democrat elected officials want to support the concept, and even if they do privately behind closed doors, and usually they do for their own kids…

When it comes to Roy Cooper, a Democrat governor of North Carolina, he declared a state of emergency over school choice last year because he knew Republicans had the votes to pass universal school choice. If you look on his government website, you go to North Carolina Governor website, he has in bright red at the top, a declaration of an emergency over school choice. It’s pathetic. It’s him throwing a tamper tantrum, stomping his feet because he knows he can’t veto the bill. And he sent his own kid to private school. I don’t blame him for that. Everybody should seek out the best educational opportunities for their kids, but you shouldn’t pull up the ladder from behind yourself and fight against school choice for others.

Think about Chicago. Their teachers’ union said it was racist to reopen schools. Guess what they also said? Their president, Stacey Davis Gates, she just called school choice racist a couple of years ago. And guess what we found out recently? She sends her own kid to private school. School choice for me, but not for thee. It is elitist hypocrisy, and it’s on full display. Social media is showing everybody and revealing, and in the book, page after page after page, I go over these hypocrites and call them out. No punches pulled. They deserve to— sunlight is the best disinfectant.

But a glimmer of hope that I talk about in the book, as well, is a phrase that I coined called “bipartisanship through hyper-partisanship.” The more that the GOP leans into parental rights as a political winner, the more it becomes a form of political suicide for Democrats to oppose it. So if one party is a first mover and they start to get benefits on the issue, the other party will have an incentive at the ballot box to come along. And we’re seeing a lot of this unfold right before our very eyes, even after I wrote the book and sent it to print.

One of the early examples, however, that I do include in the book is Terry McAuliffe in Virginia in 2021. He was in a blue state that went 10 points to Biden the year before. The former governor of Virginia, at the final debate stage—and before this, he was up in the polls—he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” That backfired. Glenn Yonkin, the Republican, turned that into an attack ad on Terry McAuliffe up until the election. He leaned into parental rights as one of his main campaign issues. And guess what? On election night, or the night before the election, Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, actually had Randy Weingarten stumping for him. He quadrupled down on his anti-parent rhetoric. And he had the school closer, Randy, as his campaign closer, and families weren’t happy about that.

The next day, on CNN, a Virginia mom actually said that that was the “nail in the coffin” moment for her, having Randy Weingarten, the school closer, be Terry McAuliffe’s campaign closer. And on election day, Glenn Youngkin won by six points, the Republican, on the issue of education, and that was the number two issue in that election.

Corey DeAngelis: For people who aren’t really involved in politics, Democrats have had a decades-long double-digit advantage on the issue of education, because they were the people that just called for throwing more money at the problem. But Glenn Youngkin laid out a blueprint for political success, at least for Republicans on the issue of education freedom, by reframing the conversation by being not just about money, but about who should determine the upbringing of children. Should it be the government and the school boards, or should it be parents choosing for their own kids? And since then, we’ve had some Democrats defect on the issue and come on our side.

In Louisiana, for example, they passed with a super majority vote through their House, 72 to 32, universal school choice, full-throated school choice. This will make Louisiana the twelfth state to go all in on school choice once it gets signed by the governor, Jeff Landry.

Justin Callais: As someone from Louisiana, who still lives in Louisiana, having Louisiana be one of the first movers in anything that seems really positive is a change.

Corey DeAngelis: Yep. And what’s great, there was bipartisan support the first time it passed the House. There was 20 percent of the Democrats in the Louisiana House. Yeah, I know, that’s only six people, but they voted for it. And that’s much better than historically where no Democrat would have voted for Milton Friedman’s vision of full-throated universal school choice for everybody. This is a seismic shift towards bipartisanship that we shouldn’t overlook. They didn’t even need any of the Democrat votes, but six of them still voted for it. Twenty percent of the Democrat caucus voted for it. That is groundbreaking.

And then you can also look in Pennsylvania, a swing state. Josh Shapiro, who was up in the polls in 2022 by double digits, he changed his education platform right before the election because his opponent, Doug Mastriano, the Republican, started calling Josh a hypocrite on school choice. He said, “Hey, you went to private school. Why don’t you support school choice for others? I support it.” And so, Josh Shapiro, right before the election, changed his education platform to include private school choice. Now, look, you can say, “Hey, he didn’t have a true change of heart. He was just reading the tea leaves.” But to me, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is. This is good news for parents in the end.

Josh Shapiro actually went on Fox News reiterating his support last year for private school choice. A specific bill that he mentioned was the Lifeline Scholarship, one that was run by a Republican in their House of Representatives back in 2022 and actually passed through the House. They’re still talking about passing this bill this year, we’re now in 2024. But, look, whether it was a true change of heart or whether he was reading the tea leaves, this shows a shift politically towards families and away from teachers’ unions.

And it reminds me of a quote from Milton Friedman, one of his best, and I’m not getting this exactly right, but I’m pretty close, is Milton Friedman once famously said that the way that you change things is not about getting the right people into office. That helps, obviously, if they vote for freedom-advancing policies, but the way that you truly change things is by creating a climate of public opinion where it becomes politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. And I think we’re getting there on the issue of school choice.

We had more consequential votes for school choice this year. A Democrat voted for the bill in Nebraska this year; he was the deciding vote. In Missouri, there were a handful of Democrats who voted for their expansion of school choice this year, and they were consequential votes as well. And Georgia, at least one Democrat voted for school choice in their House of Representatives, and that was a consequential vote, leading to them getting their first education savings account program this year. So, we’re having more bipartisan support.

Corey DeAngelis: There are some stragglers on the Republican side. They don’t make the lefty arguments. Some of them do, and they make the arguments about this defunding the public schools—which isn’t true, it actually makes them better, and the money doesn’t belong to the institutions, it belongs to the families. And by the way, this main teachers’ union talking point is an admission of failure. If they’re doing a good job, they should have nothing to worry about. But in the red states, they know that they can’t make the usual Democrat talking points. They have to come up with some other excuse to have their cake and eat it too.

So, in places like Texas, where I live, the bill passed the Senate last year easily, 18 to 13. It moved over to the House where a couple dozen, 21 so-called Republicans, voted against their own party platform issue of school choice with all the Democrats, even though the governor was highly supportive of the bill as well, and it did not pass. A bunch of them ended up losing their seats. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. They thought that they were untouchable because they had been in office for so long, they didn’t think that voters were going to care if they voted to trap them in failing government schools.

But in order to have their cake and eat it too, to still say they’re Republican, but vote against their own party platform and side with the status quo, they would make up excuses. And the main one was that, well, I’m in a rural area, and so I don’t have a lot of constituents who can benefit. We don’t have a lot of private schools. They’ll even say in some places, “the public school is the only option.” But then, in the next breath, with a straight face, these so-called Republicans will try to look you in the eye and try to say that school choice is going to defund their fantastic rural public school, which by the way is the only option. Well, first of all, hold on, wait a minute. If they’re so fantastic, they should have nothing to worry about. But two, more importantly, if it’s the only option and the money’s following the child, if families aren’t going anywhere else, you’re not going to lose any money at all.

Public schools are funded based on their enrollment count, so if no one’s leaving, if what you’re saying is true—that no one’s going to use school choice in your area because the government school is the “only option”—you should be the last person arguing against school choice on the basis that it’s going to defund your fantastic public schools. The reality is they don’t actually believe their public schools are so fantastic. These are the same guys that were already endorsed by the state affiliate of the NEA in Texas. Eighteen of the 21 no votes were endorsed the previous year by the state affiliate of the largest teachers’ union in the country, the NEA.

And guess what? The nine most rural states in the country already have some form of private school choice, so it wasn’t a barrier there. In Maine and Vermont, actually, they have the oldest voucher programs in the country. They started in the late 1800s, and they were specifically designed for kids in rural areas that didn’t even have public schools. They were so rural that they realized that not having a choice was an argument to expand opportunities, not to restrict them. And so what they did in these states, Maine and Vermont, they gave vouchers to families in rural areas to take to nearby public schools or even to private religious or non-religious schools.

Over 150 years ago, they understood that not having a lot of options was an argument to expand them, not to restrict them. So maybe some legislators, 150 years or so later, can figure this out. And they have in states like West Virginia, a much more rural state than Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and they were the first state to pass universal school choice. So, it wasn’t a problem for them. In Florida, they have rural areas, and they’ve had school choice for a long time.

All these states that have passed school choice have rural areas, and the representatives in those areas do vote for school choice. In fact, in Texas, when you looked at the polls, they broke it down by rural versus urban voters. And if anything, the rural voters had higher support for school choice than voters in urban areas, and so, those representatives in rural areas should be more likely to vote for school choice, not less likely.

And I think we’ll finally put this myth to bed once and for all, especially after the Super Tuesday results in Texas, where mostly rural incumbent legislators who voted against school choice on the Republican side lost their seats. They’re in the deepest red districts, and they voted with the radical left teachers’ unions to block school choice. They lost their seats, and that was the main dividing line in all of those races. Ten of the 13 we targeted either lost outright on Super Tuesday or they were forced into runoffs. That translates to a 77 percent victory rate against school choice opponents in the Texas House. Look, incumbents usually win their reelection 95 percent of the time, so that trend has basically been inverted in Texas. It was a political earthquake. It’s hard to overstate how big of a win that is, and we’re expecting in the primary runoffs on May 28th, that there’s going to be even more victories.

Justin Callais: Yeah. So, one thing, when you’re thinking about something you said earlier, about how it’s not necessarily if they agree with it, just that it makes it so hard to go against it. It makes me think of, on the other side, something like gay marriage, where you even saw Democrats for a long time not support it. At some point, it just became so widespread support for it that even if you don’t believe in it, well, you’re not really fighting against it, because you know it’s a losing cause. So, at the end of the day, would you prefer someone who truly believes in it? Of course. But at the end of the day, you’re not going to see many people who are truly trying to fight against it, because it’s so widespread, acknowledged, and such a strongly held belief.

I think you could see similar things with school choice. That even if they don’t believe in it, as long as they’re not fighting for it, sorry, fighting against it, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. You know, a vote is a vote. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t extremely matter if you really believe in it or not. The point is to make it something that so many people in the United States agree with, there’s pretty much no… they’re not really arguing against it at some point.

Corey DeAngelis: My point in the book is this very point. It requires at least one party to be the first mover. Right? So, for a long time, neither party was really leaning in heavily to school choice. And now that we’ve had kind of this parent awakening, the Republicans seized an opportunity and said, “I’m going to make this an election issue.” And now you have Democrats saying, “Oh man, I need to come along too since it’s so popular across party lines.” Whereas before, if no one was leaning into it as a political winner, then no one comes along.

I think the school choice movement for a long time made a mistake of pretending that it was bipartisan and making all of these left- and right-leaning arguments for it. It wasn’t translating to Democrat elected officials actually voting for it. Then the Republicans, some of them might’ve said, “Well, this isn’t a Republican thing, so I don’t have to vote for it. I don’t really feel very compelled to do it.”

So that’s why I coined this term “bipartisanship through hyper partisanship.” One party needs to see this as an opportunity to at least be the short-run victor on the issue. Because politicians, again, they respond to power and not logic. So the Republicans have been the party on this issue to pick up the football and to get some short-term wins on the issue. We saw that with Terry McAuliffe in Virginia.

And hopefully, this won’t be so polarized in the future, because the parents become a new union, one for their kids, that’s more powerful, even more of a political juggernaut than the teachers’ unions. Then, maybe the teachers’ unions will start to fight for things that actually matter instead of worrying so much about politicizing curriculum or worrying about maintaining their monopoly. Maybe they’ll instead fight for better wages for teachers or whatever it is, things that they should actually be focused on as opposed to fighting so hard to control where other people send their children to school.

Justin Callais: Right. You know, the best argument for a union is that it pushes for higher wages. If that becomes the talking point now for unions, that makes it a lot better and makes a lot more sense as to what its goal and vision should be. If you’re paying dues to something, the idea is that the benefit you get from it should be higher than the dues you’re paying. Well, then, you know, if they’re instead fighting for higher wages, I don’t really think there’s many people who think that teachers are overpaid, right? I don’t think that’s really an argument a lot of people are pushing for. So, yes, I think that would make a lot of sense.

One kind of specific question I had about ESAs and school choice in general—obviously, without it, it’s based on geographic location—with these universal school choice laws, can you decide to go to a different public school even if it’s not the one that is the closest or the one that you’re zoned for?

Corey DeAngelis: Yeah, so with ESAs, unless open enrollment is included in the bill as well, which I’ll get into in a second. If you can convince a public school district to accept your $7,000 as full payment, as opposed to the $14,000 in Arizona, for example, if you’re only directing half the funding, that option is on the table. I mean, there’s also like, you could have…

Let’s say you did homeschooling. You paid for the homeschool curriculum. You paid for all the supplies, and let’s say that only cost $2,000 and you had $5,000 left out of the $7,000. In theory, you could use the remaining $5,000 to pay for even—let’s say the public school had a really good science program—you could use that to pay part of it for the public school, that one class.

Most people aren’t using it this way, but that is something that would be allowable. So, you could kind of customize and tailor-make your education. You could even do like a hybrid homeschooling thing. I don’t think that’s exactly what you’re referring to where you could just like transfer to different schools. That’s something called open enrollment. A lot of states already do have that. But some of them, they do have open enrollment where you can choose any public school, but some of the laws require the receiving district to accept the student. And so, a lot of the times, if the student isn’t from a desirable school district, they’ll say, “Well, we’re already full,” or they’ll come up with some other excuse as to why they can’t accept the student. So it’s like, yeah, they do have school choice, but do they really? Because the receiving district can choose whether to accept it.

Justin Callais: They have the option to kind of say no if they want to.

Corey DeAngelis: This is why in the book, in one of the early chapters, I point out why I really don’t like to call them public schools. They’re not public goods in any meaningful sense of the word. Economists know that they’re rivalrous, and they are excludable. They fail both conditions of what economists would think of as a public good, but they’re also not open to the public.

They’re not like a public park where, you know, hey, I’m strolling along, and I can use this park because it’s open to the public. No, they discriminate on the basis of zip code, and families have actually gone to jail for lying about their address to get into better so-called public schools. They’re not accountable to the public. We saw what happened when families tried to push back at school board meetings. They are run by the government, they’re regulated by the government, they’re operated by the government, they’re compelled by the government, they’re assigned by the government, they’re funded by the government or at least the taxpayer with taxpayer funding. So, they’re more accurately described as government schools than public schools. But open enrollment would take us in a step in that direction towards more publicly accessible schools where your zip code doesn’t determine the education you receive.

Justin Callais: Right. OK. That makes sense. So, one thing I was curious about when I was reading your book was that you pointed out you and a few others had done some interesting work on the school teacher union strength and reopening during the pandemic… once controlling for and taking into account the actual death rates or COVID cases or anything. Can you sort of walk us through a little bit about what you and some other people have found there?

Corey DeAngelis: Yeah, and the COVID rates weren’t even related to the likelihood of reopening the school. It had nothing to do with science or health; it had everything to do with politics and power. I did a study with Christos Makridis, and we were the first study to do this, and it’s now peer-reviewed at a journal called Social Science Quarterly. But we rigorously use different databases and methods and found consistently that the stronger the teachers’ union presence in an area, the lower likelihood of them reopening their doors in person.

For us and for people who can open their eyes and see that the private schools were open, that the unions were fear-mongering every step of the way, it was a no-brainer finding. But sometimes you had to put data behind the theories, and it’s good to back up your theories instead of just using anecdotes. And we found that even after controlling for COVID rates, controlling for who you voted for in the 2020 election at the county level—we controlled for income, race, gender, a whole bunch of different categories, it was a very rigorous study—finding all else equal, stronger teachers unions, more school closures. That was the first study to do it. Since then, there have been at least six others finding the same relationship. Different research teams from different political backgrounds, some more left-leaning authors as well, finding the same relationship using different methods, different periods of time.

So this is a very clear body of evidence. Stronger teachers unions, more school closures. And look, it was rent-seeking. And it was worse than them just understanding that they could keep their jobs. It was that they could benefit financially from the closures. They knew that they could use that as leverage for even more money. I don’t know if most teachers understood this at the time, but the union bosses certainly did.

Justin Callais: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s sad to hear, but it makes sense.

Corey DeAngelis: We wrote about in the Wall Street Journal that the amount of money that a school district had was not related at all to whether they reopened. So first, we found the unions closed the schools, or kept them closed as long as possible. But we also found—the main argument was, “We needed more money,” right? Well, we found no correlation, all else equal, of more money—you would think if you had more money, then you’d be more likely to open. No. In fact, some of our models, if anything, found that the ones that had more money were less likely to open.

The theory there, the only way we could explain this is, well, unions pushed for more money, and they pushed for the closures, so maybe our measure of union strength wasn’t picking up everything. Some of the spillover was a little bit of that correlation with union strength and also them pushing for more money, also pushing for the schools to remain closed.

We also found in a separate study that the school closures were associated with mental health issues for the parents. Very rigorous studies [found] the school closures hurt kids academically and mentally, but we also found some evidence that the parents were reporting higher instances of mental health issues as well. They didn’t plan for this, right?

Justin Callais: They’re trying to juggle jobs and educating their kids. It was a huge shock for those that were lucky enough to still have their jobs. Now you’re juggling like, well, my kid’s at home, but I have to go to work. I could see that leading to a lot of stress and anxiety in that situation.

Corey DeAngelis: Exactly. So, you shouldn’t interpret that result as meaning parents don’t like their kids. That’s not the issue at all. It’s that the schools were closed, and this is involuntary. They already had their lives set up around the school system, right? And so now they didn’t have those childcare services. Their kids were receiving crappy Zoom school, where their kids were falling behind right before their eyes, and that led to the mental health issues among parents, too.

That’s the way that the results should be interpreted in my view. I mean, this was some very dark times, and you had a lot of problems in some places like in Chicago, they were striking in 2022. Two weeks to slow the spread turned into two years to flatten a generation. But the silver lining is that families are paying more attention now than ever when it comes to their own children’s education. They’re taking the schools back. They’ve unleashed a parent revolution. And although the schools are open, the problems are still there in a lot of ways when it comes to politicization of schools, and parents aren’t going to unsee what they saw in 2020. The problems are still there, and the momentum is continuing. And guess what? When parents get school choice, they fight really hard to keep it.

This happened in Florida. I mentioned this in the book, but Florida Governor DeSantis, he owes his 2018 victory, which he barely won in 2018, in part to school choice moms. The next day in the Wall Street Journal in 2018, the headline was ‘School choice moms tip the governor’s race in Florida.’ Because CNN exit polling found that black moms in particular came out in force for DeSantis much higher than expected after his opponent, Andrew Gillum, the Democrat, called to get rid of their scholarship program that was already benefiting over 400,000 kids, disproportionately non-white, disproportionately low-income families. It turned into a single issue category for these families who might have disagreed with DeSantis on a host of other issues. They saw that their kids’ education was really important. They wanted their kids to have a better future and opportunity than they had with their own education.

Since then, Florida has gone to—it was a swing state, right? A lot of people, if it was blue or red, we didn’t know. Now, Florida has supermajorities of Republicans in both chambers, and DeSantis won in 2022 by 20 points. And so, this is a way for Republicans to make inroads. Democrats too, if they come along, if they figure it out. But if the Democrats keep resisting, this is only going to continue to lead to more red waves on the issue of education. So, hey, Democrats, if you don’t want that to happen in your state, you should act like Josh Shapiro and support your constituents—parents—as opposed to special interests—the teachers’ unions.

Justin Callais: All right. So, the last question I have is, we both have economics backgrounds, we both know the saying that there’s no true solutions, right? There’s just trade-offs. Do you see any potential downsides to this vision, and why do those benefits outweigh the cost? Obviously, I know you’re going to say that the benefits, of course, outweigh the cost. So, I’m just kind of curious if you see any potential downsides.

For example, one concern of subsidies in education may be making private schools even more expensive, like what we’ve seen at the university level. I’m just curious as to what your thoughts are there.

Corey DeAngelis: Yeah, there’s a rigorous study by Heritage Foundation finding that, if anything, as school choice has expanded in states, the tuition inflation in private schools has been less than the tuition inflation in states without school choice. The theory there is that, well, it’s true that demand can have an upward effect on price, but also, you have a supply-side response where market entry has a downward pressure on the price. And guess what else happens? When you have more competition, that leads to a downward pressure on price.

At the end of the day, this isn’t really comparable to the university sector, because this is relative to having a completely government-controlled industry in K-12 education, whereas subsidies in higher education is relative to less government involvement. So, school choice is this weird policy area where you could give something to someone in the form of a voucher or a scholarship, and you’re decreasing government size. It’s half of what they’re spending in the public schools, so you’re providing a taxpayer benefit, but you’re also decreasing government control because families are the ones directing the funding. Instead of just forcing them to spend that $20,000 at the government school, whether they use it or not, you’re now giving families the decision for themselves to make the cost-benefit decision to take that money or not to another provider.

I was looking for my Thomas Sowell books behind me. There are no solutions, only trade-offs. I think he is right. And some people have fear-mongered about school choice and said that, well, with government shekels comes government shackles. To which I respond, you can get the shackles without the shekels. Government can and they have regulated private and home education, historically and today, without school choice.

In Oregon, for example, in 1922, they outlawed private education altogether. You had to send your kid to the government school. Was that because of a private school choice program? No, they didn’t have any private school choice programs. In 1925, thankfully, three years later, Pierce v. Society of Sisters at the Supreme Court, the court famously ruled when they said, “The child is not the mere creature of the state.”

Some people would be wise to remember those wise words today. Joe Biden, I’m looking at you. He has tweeted out that there’s no such thing as other people’s kids, it’s society’s kids, is his arguments. The whole “it takes a village” ideology. But today, in states like New York and Rhode Island and Massachusetts, they’re some of the worst states for homeschooling, according to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, and they don’t have any private school choice. Meanwhile, on the other end, you have states like Oklahoma and Iowa have universal school choice, and they’re much better on homeschool freedom, too. So, these are separate issues. And if anything, when you have school choice—

Look, politics is all about organized interests pushing for what they want. When you have more people benefiting from private and home education through school choice initiatives, you’ll have a better chance at fighting back against authoritarian government overreach in the future if you have these coalitions fighting back. And the best way to do that is to let the money follow the child.

Randi Weingarten has repeated the same argument. She’s the teachers’ union boss who fought to keep the schools closed. Was she making that argument about government overreach because she’s some anti-government libertarian? No, she’s a big government socialist. She wants to keep her gravy train going by trapping kids in totally government-controlled schools that are staffed by her union.

Corey DeAngelis: And so, if you’re on Randy Weingarten’s side and Joe Biden’s side and not my side and many others’ side, Milton Friedman’s side, you’re probably not the education freedom fighter that you think you are, and you might be overthinking it. We got to take the W or else we’re going to be stuck with the L. And guess what? With 50 million kids being churned through that system for 13 years of their lives for seven hours a day, if they’re learning that big government is the solution to all their problems, well, they’re going to vote to regulate private and home education in the future if we don’t do something about it now. We can’t make perfect the enemy of the good. We shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees. We have to take the wins when we can, even if it’s not utopia. We have to take their incremental victories when they come, and this is one issue where we’re actually winning in a freedom-advancing direction.

On the issue of school choice, I wish Milton Friedman were alive today, because his ideas are finally coming to fruition right before our very eyes when it comes to education freedom. This is something we should be excited about. Look, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. I understand that, and we got to fight against any overreach when it comes.

One way to do so is to make sure that the school choice bills are written well. Our model legislation, for example, in Arizona, you asked me what one of the best states is for school choice, I said Arizona. They have explicit anti-regulation text in their statute where they say if you accept the money, you’re not a government actor. They can’t force you to change your curriculum. You don’t even have to take any tests. It allows for maximum autonomy with the private providers, and at the same time, there is a small amount of oversight where they have random audits every year.

If you’re using taxpayer money, there should be some type of audit to make sure you’re not spending the money on drugs and other things that aren’t education-related. That’s something even as a libertarian, I can get behind, and I’m not going to overthink it. That’s just one thing that, look, there’s fraud in any sector. I think it happens more so in the government sector than in the private sector, but this is something that I don’t see as an onerous, too much of a regulation, too much to ask for.

Justin Callais: It’s the cost of doing business, right? There’s going to be some—

Corey DeAngelis: Yeah. Let’s even buy the argument that maybe private school tuition went up. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even though the news media want you to believe that. In Arizona, for example, one of their leftist media outlets who always hated school choice, guess what they did? They cherry-picked a couple of private schools that increased their tuition and said: Arizona passed universal school choice, and now some private schools are increasing tuition.

Well, guess what I did? In response to that, I Googled a couple of the private schools in Arizona. They had no tuition increases, or some of them were even lower than inflation, the ones that did increase. It was like the first two that I chose, too—and yeah, maybe I got lucky and chose two that did not increase—but it seems kind of weird that the only examples that they provided were ones that increased and didn’t provide any examples.

Also, on the other hand, they were [not] being unbiased journalists. They would have said, well, there are some schools that haven’t increased their tuition like this one, that one, the other. So, I don’t believe what you first read in the mainstream media, because they have an agenda and they usually have a narrative, a story they want to write, and then they’ll go out and fish for information to support that agenda. And so there’s no such thing as unbiased reporters in a lot of ways these days.

But yeah, let’s say that tuition increased from $6,000 to $7,000, or something like that. You’re still in a better position than you were before. You’re still saving taxpayer money.… These same people making this argument, they do support free college and Pell grants and things that could increase tuition in private school. So, they’re not unbiased actors. They’re logically inconsistent.

Justin Callais: They’re not vigilant cost cutters across the board.

Corey DeAngelis: No, exactly. It’s so amazing that when it comes to school choice, a lot of the Democrats who want taxpayers to pay for everything else, they start acting like fiscal hawks, fiscal conservatives, only when it comes to K-12 education. And they lie about it, too.

In Arizona, they got a new governor named Katie Hobbs, who’s a hypocrite. She went to private school herself. Again, I don’t blame her for that, but she’s pulling up the ladder from behind herself. Her first argument was that school choice was going to bankrupt the state because so many families wanted it. She said, you know, only X amount were actually expected to use the program, and now like 100,000 families are using it. They’re freaking out because it’s more popular than anticipated. That’s an argument for school choice, not against it. But she put out an argument saying that it was going to bankrupt the state because it was going to cost $900 million for these kids. And the thing is, she was only looking at the costs and not the benefits. Funny how that works. Those same kids would have cost $1.8 billion in the public schools. This is a savings, not a cost. So, they’re being dishonest about it—and look, $7,000 is less than $14,000. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure that out.

Justin Callais: That’s a great point. I thought that was a great response to my question. Overall, that was a very interesting conversation. Corey, I want to thank you so much for your time to talk about this very interesting book, The Parent Revolution. I strongly recommend people go out and buy it. I read it over the weekend. It’s a really interesting book that brings a lot of interesting perspectives, even in things that someone who tends to agree with this that I hadn’t thought of before. So, I strongly recommend it. Thank you, Corey, for all of your insight.

Corey DeAngelis: All right, thank you so much, Justin.

. . .

Corey A. DeAngelis is a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children and a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is a regular on Fox News and frequently appears in The Wall Street Journal. DeAngelis is also the executive director at Educational Freedom Institute, a senior fellow at Reason Foundation, an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute, and a board member at Liberty Justice Center. He holds a Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Arkansas. He is the author of The Parent Revolution: Rescuing Your Kids from the Radicals Ruining Our Schools (2024).

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