Too cool for public school: Matt Damon and Barack Obama’s double standard

Erik Telford President, Franklin Center
Font Size:

Matt Damon believes America’s public schools are the right place for your children, but not for his.

The actor and prominent left-wing activist has spoken time and again about the importance of public schools, the dangers of holding teachers accountable through testing, and the need to throw more funding into the public education system. But Damon revealed last week that he and his wife were sending their children to private school, bemoaning the lack of choice in public education. Unfortunately, the politicians and unions that the movie star supports are depriving millions of families of the opportunity to have a choice for their children’s education.

Damon may consider himself a friend of public schools, and that’s an easy choice for someone with the means to provide their children with a quality private education. But for families without those means, having their children stuck in failing schools is a harsh reality. With nearly half of public schools failing to meet federal standards, it’s clear that serious education reforms are needed to ensure that every child has access to a quality education.

Education reform is the civil rights issue of our generation. The current one-size-fits-all system is trapping children in failing schools, denying them an equal opportunity. Reforms focusing on school choice would give every parent in America the same power as Matt Damon, even if they aren’t Hollywood multimillionaires.

These types of reforms have worked in Washington, DC, where low-income families were able to use opportunity scholarships to rescue their children from underperforming schools. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has twice attempted to shut this program down, forcing 1,600 underprivileged children back into failing schools — all while sending his own daughters to one of the most prestigious private schools in America.

American public education doesn’t have a funding problem, it has a performance problem — and children shouldn’t be punished for the failures of the system.

Writing blank checks to failing schools, as Damon seems to advise, isn’t the solution. Three years ago, Mark Zuckerberg famously gave $100 million to Newark mayor Cory Booker to improve his city’s failing schools, but the money hasn’t solved problems in the classroom. Despite spending $23,057 per student — more than twice the national average — Newark still graduates barely three-fifths of its students, 90 percent of whom need remedial English. Instead of helping students, the money from Zuckerberg’s grant is being spent on a new teacher pay package and political consultants.

The state of Colorado also recently tried this approach by throwing millions of dollars at serially underperforming schools without increasing accountability standards. The extra funding — which was deemed a failure and cut off after three years — increased the strain on taxpayers, but had no effect on academic performance and did nothing to rescue children from failing schools.

Families should be able choose schools based on a child’s unique skills and needs. Public policy solutions advancing school choice allow families to decide where their children and tax dollars best go to allow them the strongest opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.

School choice helps children escape failing schools, promoting upward social mobility by giving low-income parents a chance to send their children to schools that provide them the quality of education they deserve. By standing with union interests instead of needy families, Obama and Damon are sending a demoralizing message that wealth, power, and ZIP code should determine a child’s future.

It’s easy to call Obama and Damon hypocrites and rightfully criticize their anti-reform politics, but it’s hard to blame them for wanting to give their children every possible opportunity and refusing to settle for what they deemed to be inferior schools. Millions of other parents feel the same way, and they shouldn’t have to be the president or a Hollywood star to have the same options.

Erik Telford is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Outreach at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity