Hot Sheet

Private-schooled Sen. Michael Bennet reminds us he’s no fan of vouchers

Author: Dan Njegomir - May 23, 2017 - Updated: June 6, 2017

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… Nor of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the billionaire, education-reform advocate, top-dollar GOP donor and now Trump administration Cabinet member. You’ll recall Colorado’s Democratic senior U.S. senator had voted against her confirmation earlier this year.

In response to a Washington Post headline last week — “Trump seeks deep cuts to public education programs in pursuit of school choice” — Bennet tweeted his familiar position on using public funds to pay students’ tuition at private schools:

That drew this response — also a familiar counterpoint in the perennial debate over school vouchers. The author called out Bennet for denying children in low-income households the kinds of educational opportunities he easily can afford for his own kids:

Actually, it’s unclear what kind of school any of Bennet’s three children currently attends; we reached out to Bennet spokeswoman Laurie Cipriano for details, and when she follows up, we’ll share. (A 2010 news profile of Bennet — after he was appointed to his Senate seat to a fill a vacancy but while he was campaigning for a full term in that year’s fall election — noted the Bennets had moved their oldest daughter from a private Denver school to a public one years earlier.)

What is a matter of record is that Bennet himself, the son of a prominent political dignitary in a succession of Democratic presidential administrations, attended the private St. Albans School while growing up in Washington, D.C. St. Albans is the kind  of go-to prep program that serves a lot of that city’s political elite — especially given the dismal state of the public schools there.

So, that won’t sit well with Bennet’s detractors, who would have him support publicly funded vouchers for poor kids to get the same kind of schooling that prepared him for Wesleyan University and Yale Law School. And it can’t help matters any for Bennet in the eyes of his critics on this issue that he is also one of the wealthier members of the U.S. Senate, with an estimated net worth of $13.2 million as of 2014, according the website insidegov.com.

(That still leaves him a mere pauper next to No. 1 Jared Polis, Colorado’s representative from the 2nd Congressional District, who is worth $388 million; Bennet is a good bit wealthier than everyone else in the state’s Washington delegation. Hey, maybe there’s a separate blog post in this…)

Bennet is of course no piker when it comes to some of the other education reforms long advocated in Republican circles by DeVos and others. He has been a champion of charter schools, in particular, which flourished in Denver Public Schools during Bennet’s previous tenure as the district’s superintendent.

Indeed, he resides squarely within his party’s pro-education reform wing and has won the praise and friendship of many committed Colorado school-choicers, including prominent Republicans.

At the same time, he has drawn opposition through the years from his own party’s labor-left wing over that very same support for education reforms.

School vouchers, however, represent a line few in Bennet’s party have been willing to cross. For basic philosophical reasons as well as hardball political ones, a pro-voucher Democrat is about as common as a pro-abortion rights Republican.

Nevertheless, is Bennet displaying a double-standard on the issue? Is it fair to expect him or anyone else who can afford a private-school education to support using tax dollars to extend that opportunity to kids of limited means?

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.


One comment

  • Tom Umland

    May 23, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    No, Michael Bennet, throwing money at the problem is the same solution you tried and FAILED with before. And Denver is still terrible in ratings based on testing and the districts are STILL trying to just throw money at the problem following your lead. What about your other projects? Follow your former instincts and PROMOTE Charter Schools, where active interest by parents and teachers can bridge the gap that mere money can’t accomplish.

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