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Kamala Harris’ Attack on Joe Biden Could Backfire

The consensus is in. Senator Kamala Harris was the winner of the second stage of debate contestants. Most of the media agreed and her poll numbers showed a post-debate bump.

According to Politico:

The latest Morning Consult survey found Harris increased her standing to 12 percent in the poll, which was taken after the debate ended through Friday, up 6 percentage points over the previous week. Harris’ upswing came after she confronted Joe Biden over his history opposing school busing for desegregation. This was a dramatic moment that dominated news coverage afterward.

Of course, sometimes if you open a can of worms from 50 years ago, you have to be prepared to grab a spoon and dig in. It would follow that after that performance Harris would then be asked for her position on federally mandated busing. And she was. Vaughn Hillyard from NBC News tweeted this screenshot last night:

Kind of serves her right. After all, she attacked Biden for not doing so. She also made it personal by including her own story as a child. A deeply cynical and staged ploy, her campaign had t-shirts ready on their official store within minutes.

She just happened to pick what might have been one of the most deeply unpopular issues that followed the civil rights movement. Even in 1970, a Gallup poll showed Americans opposed forced busing at a rate of nearly 90%. According to the L.A. Times even in Berkely, where Harris participated in such a program, over half of the parents objected at the outset. Many voted with their feet and enrollment in the district dropped from 16,000 to 9,000 over the next 15 years. It could still be deeply unpopular today for a number of reasons

According to the story, the commute from Harris’ neighborhood to the neighborhood where she attended school was just a few miles. Can you imagine what such a program might involve today?

Long bus rides in congested traffic in and around Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, and other large cities. Our most populated areas now sprawl from downtown to the suburbs to ex-burbs. A commute to work can be a nightmare. How could this impact a commute to go to kindergarten?

This type of geographic sprawl will create other problems. It could create barriers for parents to participate in parent-teacher conferences and other school activities that are demonstrated to have a positive impact on a child’s education. It may restrict involvement in extra-curricular activities for children. It could also make after school care very problematic to arrange for working families. This is especially true if a parent’s place of employment is far from the assigned school. With four children at three different grade levels and a demanding job 30 miles away from home, this scenario would have created havoc in my house.

Harris also uses some disingenuous arguments in her rationale. There are no segregated schools in this country. The redlining that occurred in Berkely through the 1950s is also a relic of the past. People can locate where they like and most often do. To put a program like this in place today would cause far more hardships for children and families than in the Berkely of her childhood.

In reality, there are much better solutions to improving access to higher quality education for motivated parents who are stuck in a low performing school. If Harris was serious she would be advocating for increases in charter schools and voucher programs. These are voluntary programs that interested parents can sign up for. They have also demonstrated success where they have been tried.

Of course, this would be hard if you rely on donations from the teacher’s unions. However, that also means you are not serious about solutions if you can’t stand up to a donor. Especially when these practices are popular among voters across the board. According to the Federation for Children in 2018:

  • Support for the concept of school choice remains strong: fully 63% support school choice, including 41% who strongly support it. 72% of Latinos, 61% of whites, 66% of African Americans, 75% of Republicans, 62% of Independents, and 54% of Democrats support school choice.
  • Almost all voters want private school choice available: 86% of voters believe that publicly-funded vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts should be available in some form.
  • A federal tax credit scholarship remains very favorable: 67% support a potential K-12 education tax credit proposal, despite the polarization of the electorate. The federal tax credit scholarship earns bipartisan support with 55% of Democrats, 69% of Independents, and fully 80% of Republicans favoring the possible measure.

Another tactic to improve underperforming schools is to scrap the restorative justice programs that have been demonstrated not to work. RAND Corporation did the first randomized control study of these programs in Pittsburgh Public schools. Students reported vastly different outcomes than the staff did saying there were more disruptions in class and an increase in bullying. However, it did not decrease in student arrests breaking the “school to prison pipeline” as advertised. There were also significant negative effects on math scores for middle schoolers, black students and schools that were predominantly black.

If Harris was serious about distributing educational opportunities for all students, she would not even be talking about busing. School choice creates an integrated community, based on common goals and expectations among parents and educators. Giving educators back the ability to control behavior in the classroom is also essential to improve learning and attract better staff. They also enjoy high levels of public support.

Perhaps digging up the past was not the best strategy. In addition to voicing some deeply progressive policies on healthcare and immigration, this will be another point of attack that can be deployed against Harris. And most certainly will be if she is the eventual nominee.

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