School Choice & Charters Federal File

Parental Choice

By Vaishali Honawar — November 23, 2004 2 min read

She is a product of public schools herself, but Margaret Spellings has exercised parental choice when it comes to her own children.

Ms. Spellings, the White House domestic-policy adviser whom President Bush named last week as his choice for the next secretary of education, sends one of her daughters to a public school in Alexandria, Va., the Washington suburb where they live. The other attends a parochial school, a White House spokesman said. She also has two adult stepsons.

Krista Kafer, an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank that strongly favors school choice measures such as private school vouchers and charter schools, believes Ms. Spellings is making the smart decision for her daughters, Mary and Grace LaMontagne.

“As a parent, she is choosing an environment that best meets the need of her child. Honestly that is what all parents need to be doing,” said Ms. Kafer, who has for the past three years conducted studies that show a disproportionately large number of members of Congress send their children to private schools.

Jack Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington policy group that works to advance public education, said elected officials set a bad example when they send their children to private schools. But he acknowledged there could be a reason why parents make that choice.

“Sometimes the children need attention in a particular area that is not available in public schools,’’ he said.

The only U.S. education secretary believed to have had a school-age child while in that office was Lamar Alexander, who served as secretary from 1991 to 1993 under the first President Bush. The Alexanders sent their son to Sidwell Friends School, a well-regarded independent school in Washington where annual tuition at the time was more than $10,000.

William J. Bennett, President Reagan’s second education secretary, had a young child, but he left the post before the child reached school age.

President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton kicked up some dust when they decided to send their daughter, Chelsea, to Sidwell Friends, despite their much-touted support for public education.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, when they moved into the White House a decade and a half earlier, enrolled their daughter, Amy, at a public school in the District of Columbia.

Ms. Spellings was not available to discuss her decisions on schooling for her children. But at the White House ceremony held to announce her nomination, she noted that her daughters got “to miss school to be here.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 24, 2004 edition of Education Week

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