Should We Know Where Pols Send Their Kids to School?

At The Grade today, Alexander Russo discusses an educational media question that rarely gets examined: do journalists and/or the public have any particular reason to know where politicians send their kids to school?

There’s no absolute consensus whether a politician’s choices over where to send his or her children to school are public decisions that should be reported and discussed or are private ones (like, say, health or finances) that should be given some measure of protected status.

However, bloggers and media outlets alike seem to end up reporting and discussing school choices for major political candidates (and, occasionally, for reform advocates like Michelle Rhee and critics like Diane Ravitch).

The latest such discussion comes via the Washington Post (Does Rubio have a spending problem?) and centers on Marco Rubio’s $40,000 a year tab for four children they’re sending to private school. A lowly US Senator, Rubio doesn’t make or have as much as many other big-money politicians, and spends what some see as more than he should given his income — including on private schools.

Of course, Rubio isn’t the only national political figure to send his kids to private schools. And $40,000 is the tuition for just one kid at some of the most expensive options out there (New York City’s Avenues, for example, or DC’s Sidwell Friends). Unlike some Democratic politicians Rubio can’t be accused of being hypocritical about parental choice, either, having voted and spoken out in favor of various choice options especially for parents with children who have special needs.

Actually, the Sean Sullivan piece in question focuses less on Rubio’s educational philosophy than on the news that he’s doing something that usually signals a financial panic: cashing out a big chunk of money from retirement funds, which carries a steep tax penalty. And as Russo acknowledges, Rubio has had a history of doing things that raise questions about his solvency and potential abuses of campaign dollars to address personal financial problems. There’s also his personal and financial relationship with former Rep. David Rivera, a font of financial impropriety charges (Rubio still jointly owns an underwater mortgage with Rivera in Tallahassee, as Sullivan notes). So I guess this “story” would meet Russo’s standard:

My own feeling is that a public figure’s decisions are relevant as part of a discussion about their positions, credibility, and determinations about what other parents should do. So, too are their personal educational experiences growing up, be they private, district, parochial, or charter.

But Alexander thinks those pointing fingers need to be transparent as well, so he ends the post be disclosing his own educational background.

I don’t know that this applies to me since I don’t write primarily about education-related topics and don’t have any particular issues with where Rubio sends his kids to school. But for the record, I attended public schools in South Carolina and Georgia through high school (I never even met a prep school student until college), then did my undergraduate studies at Emory, a private university, and then went to law school at a public university, the University of Georgia.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.