Okay for Obamas to Send Their Kids to Private Schools, Teachers’ Union President Says

By Nicholas Ballasy | November 19, 2008 | 6:57 PM EST

Sidwell Friends School in northwest Washington,Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008. Michelle Obama and her daughters Sasha and Malia visited their top choices for schools "to make sure we find the right fit." A small motorcade was parked outside the Sidwell Friends school for about 40 minutes, and a similar motorcade was at the back entrance of Georgetown Day School on Monday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(CNSNews.com) - President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle “have every right” to send their children to public or private school, and no one should “criticize” their decision, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said in an interview with CNSNews.com on Monday at the National Press Club. 
Democratic Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack echoed Weingarten’s comments at the conference, telling CNSNews.com that “it’s a very personal decision” that the president-elect and his wife need to make and the issue “should not be subject to criticism or comment.”

The AFT endorsed Obama for president in July. On the campaign trail, Obama spoke out against school choice and vouchers for children in households of any income level. Still, when asked if the Obamas should send their children to public school, Weingarden said “none of us” can relate to being in the position of president of the United States.
“Look, none of us knows what it’s like to be a president of the United States of America or a president-elect,” she said. “I think Senator Obama and his wife have every right to make a decision that works for their family and their kids, and none of us should criticize it.”
In the nation’s capital, the amount spent per student, on average, in the public schools is $24,600 per year, according to education expert Andrew Coulson at the libertarian Cato Institute.
“That is a very, very, personal decision that the president-elect and soon-to-be first lady should make and should make in the best interest of their children, and no one should be critical of whatever decision they make. I’m sure they’re going to make the best decision for their children. I feel very strongly about that,” Vilsack said.
“That is their number one responsibility despite all of the enormous job (sic) he’s undertaken and will undertake here on January 20. He loves those two children, and he’s going to make sure that they are properly educated, and that’s really a personal decision, and it really shouldn’t be subject to criticism or comment in my view.”
The No Child Left Behind Act was discussed during the press conference. Critics of the act have argued that it is under-funded. Weingarten told CNSNews.com that the lack of funding is only part of the problem.
“The assessment system or the accountability system that was put into place has had the negative consequence of narrowing the curriculum and of making lots and lots of schools into test prep factories,” she said. “So, it’s more than just the money.”
Weingarten said the funding is necessary. But in states like New York, her home state, “a combination of things” must be done, she said.
“It is has to be a re-thought accountability system as well, and we have to put the tools into place so that teachers can actually do their jobs, because what happens is teachers get demeaned and blamed when they don’t have the wherewithal to do their jobs,” she said.
“They then become really despairing because they, more than anybody, want to make a difference in the lives of kids,” Weingarten added.