Joe Trippi: It’s time to put all school choice options on the table


Some people grow up on the wrong side of the tracks. Joe Trippi, the legendary Democratic consultant, grew up on the wrong side of the school zone. On one side of the arbitrary, invisible line that ran down his street in L.A.: safe schools, high school grads, kids who went on to college and careers. On the other side: gangs, dropouts, a dead end.

Trippi got across the line, thanks to a tenacious mom. But, he told redefinED in a recent phone interview, he’s haunted by what happened to the kids who didn’t. And 50 years later, he’s aghast that the same “crazy way to shuffle kids around,” as he put it, remains largely intact.podcastED-logo

“It’s just unfathomable to me,” Trippi said in the podcast attached below. “I think about all of those years, and that system is still in place today, everywhere. Most places anyway. Too many places.”

Trippi is yet another high-profile Democrat who supports school choice, including publicly funded private options like vouchers and tax credit scholarships. His personal experience informs that position. So does something more urgent and practical: a belief that with so many kids falling through the cracks, it makes sense to put all options on the table. “I think we should try them all,” he said. “The current status quo, it may be working for some kids, maybe even many.” But for too many, it isn’t.

Democrats and school choice have a long, tangled relationship. Few know better than Trippi. He’s been deep inside Democratic politics since the 1970s, and his firm, Trippi & Associates, has advised National School Choice Week since its inception in 2010. So what’s he seeing on the ground now? A lot of Democrats coming around on school choice, especially at the local level, especially in inner cities.

Even more will come around, Trippi said, if both sides cut the nastiness, and if school choice supporters continue to stress bipartisanship. To that end, the Republican push to emphasize school choice in the run-up to the 2014 elections carries some risk, he said. “I’m not begrudging them for their efforts. I know they care about it,” Trippi said. But making school choice partisan potentially sustains “the polarization and the demonization on both sides.”


  1. Pingback: ‘We have 500 cable channels and a one-size-fits all school system’ | Cost of College

  2. I wonder if there is any talk about public school reform in addition to voucher programs. Said another way, isn’t it just as important to apply massive funding and new methods to public schools as well as distributing funding for vouchers ??


  3. Hi Rob, thanks for reading us and thanks for your comment. I think the short answer, for me, is yes. Offering more choice and doing more things to improve outcomes in public schools are not mutually exclusive. We can and should do both. Our blog focuses on school choice because we see a need to better explain what it is and isn’t, why it’s a good thing in our view, what myths and misperceptions need dispelling, etc.