Funding cuts. Pay cuts. Unproven methods. Charter schools. Increased class sizes. Elimination of the arts. Elimination of local control. Cuts in benefits. Cuts in pensions. Attacks on teachers. Insulting the teaching profession. The destruction of the public school system.
All of these things have been happening for years; all of them are now accelerating in frequency and intensity; and all of them seem to be led by Republicans. Why?
There are, I think, three distinct reasons that Republicans are attacking our public schools and mounting an attempt to destroy public education itself.
Reason #1: “I want to fix your schools.”
This, of course, is what all “reformers” say about their actions around our schools. But let’s be honest – some of them really do want to help.
“I can fix you; you just have to let me.”
They may think high-stakes testing will improve achievement. They’d be wrong, but at least their intent would be good.
They may believe that charter schools are a magic bullet. They’d be (mostly) wrong, but again, their intent would be to make things better.
I refuse to paint all politicians with the broad brush of “school destroyers.” But I also refuse to believe, without proof, that their professed love for teachers and public schools are worth any more than their thoughts and prayers after school shootings. As Rachel Maddow says: Don’t listen to their words; instead, pay attention to their actions.
So, Republican politicians (and Democrats too, for that matter), if you want us to believe your heart is in the right place, and you really do want to “fix” things, then listen to the people on the ground when they tell you what works: smaller class sizes, higher teacher retention, full-time aides, and so on. Then maybe we’ll believe that you belong under this heading, even when you bring wrong-headed “solutions” to the table. And remember, for us to trust you, you have to trust us as well, enough to listen to us and to include us in the decision-making.
Reason #2: “I want to make money off of your schools.”
Here, I suspect, is where a number of our Republican friends are. And here is definitely where some of their donors are. They see the river of money involved in public education, and they want a piece of it.
How much money are we talking about? According to the Kentucky Education Facts page at the KY Department of Education, there are 656,588 public school students in our state. If we ONLY talk about the SEEK funding included in this year’s state budget, that’s $2,626,352,000. And that’s ONLY that one funding stream.
No wonder unscrupulous people want to divert some of that money to themselves. Online schools, charter schools, contracted services – everybody wants a piece of the action. I don’t necessarily blame them; after all, businesses go where the money is. I just want to stop them, especially when they rip off our public schools, or take money for some flim-flam scheme that should be going to things like textbooks and full-time aides.
And make no mistake: a good chunk of the charter school movement is about money, not “choice” or “students” or “opportunity.” The only opportunity they are interested in is the opportunity to cash the checks, and the only choice they want is which yacht to buy with the money. Look around the country, and you’ll find tale of woe after tale of woe, of school systems that put a good chunk of their budget into charter schools run by private companies, only to see that money leave town, and leave the school system holding the bag.
Public schools are a public trust, and belong to all of us. When high-roller donors start hovering around our schools, looking for a payday, we the people need to circle our schools and say “hands off!”
Reason #3: “I want to destroy public education.”
I’ll be honest – I didn’t believe this one for a long time. It just seemed too implausible: why would anyone in their right mind want to get rid of free public schools for all our children?
However, after following the Rachel Maddow advice noted above (“watch their actions, not their words”), and after doing a good amount of research, I have come to the conclusion that there is a growing coterie of libertarians and conservatives who want to either get rid of public education completely, or to so damage it that only children and families with no other options will use it.
In the future, we are going to do more in-depth articles on this aspect of the fight over public education. For now, let me present some of the possible reasons these people want to destroy our public schools:
They subscribe to an extreme form of libertarianism.
They believe that government has no business being in the education business, in any way, and that the free public education system that created one of the most widely educated populations in the history of the modern world should be dismantled, and in fact should never have been established in the first place.
Think I’m exaggerating? Remember that David Koch of Koch Brothers fame ran as the Libertarian vice-presidential candidate in 1980. Here is an excerpt from their platform:
We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.
As an interim measure to encourage the growth of private schools and variety in education, we support tax credits for tuition and for other expenditures related to an individual’s education. We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.
We condemn compulsory education laws, which spawn prison-like schools with many of the problems associated with prisons, and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.
Until government involvement in education is ended, we support elimination within the governmental school system of forced busing and corporal punishment. We further support immediate reduction of tax support for schools, and removal of the burden of school taxes from those not responsible for the education of children.
One of the great achievements of the communitarian philosophy is the shared responsibility for educating all of our children. Libertarians in the Koch community see this as an evil, not an achievement. They also see it as a financial burden. They want to get rid of your public schools. They want to destroy public education.
They want much lower taxes, and getting rid of public schools is one way to accomplish that.
Look at any pie chart of state or local government expenditures, and education will surely be a big slice. If your goal is to lower your taxes as much as possible, why not go after the largest consumer of those taxes?
Most of us want lower taxes, and we all surely want our tax money spent wisely. But most of us also see our public schools as an investment in our children and in the future. Paying taxes to have good, free public schools is just part of what we do as citizens in a community.
Not so for the ones wanting to destroy public education. They can pay to have their children educated, and they don’t care if you cannot. They don’t believe in shared community responsibilities, or even in community, really. They only care about Me and Mine, and in their eyes, public schools take away from Me and Mine.
They want schools they can control, in order to have schools that fit their view of the world.
The most obvious example of this is the various sectarian schools that are in almost every part of the country. While religious schools have existed for centuries in this country, there was usually a live-and-let-live attitude between them and the public schools. It is only recently that some of them have joined the tear-down-public-education movement.
Why have they done this? For some parents, it is fear of The Other. The idea of their white, Chrisitan children attending school alongside children with different skin colors and different religions, supported by THEIR tax dollars, just drives them crazy. Add in the belief of some that they are the chosen ones, and that all others are condemned to damnation, and you can see how they wind up believing that public schools are a Tool of the Devil.
Of course, there are others who do not need the facade of religion to justify their hatred of public schools: the racists. They don’t see why “those people” are in this country in the first place, and they surely don’t want their children in school with them.
They want to change society, and not for the better.
Finally, we come to the most problematic reason that some might want to destroy public education. As I said earlier, I found it hard to believe that there were those that wanted to do that, but I changed my mind after doing research and “looking at their actions.” At this point, I’m still struggling with this last sub-point; but, there are data points that make me list it, even so.
What are we talking about, here? We’re talking about people who believe that the future is going to be divided into basically two classes; that the upper 20% is going to have most of the money and all of the control; and that we had better either get rid of public education altogether, or use public schools as only factory-like training schools for the worker bees in the bottom 80%.
And, to be clear: this future is not an unfortunate consequence of the misalignment of our capitalist society. It is, instead, something that is being talked about and planned by various powerful people and groups in our country.
Too much conspiracy theory for you? Yes, for me as well. And yet, as I said, there are data points that cause me to at least consider the possibility. And, if this theory is true, it gives even more weight, more significance to our fight for open, free, public education for all.
We at Forward Kentucky will be doing more stories on the fight for our public schools over the coming months. This is a critical, critical fight for one of the pillars of our democracy: an educated citizenry that is able to govern itself. And make no mistake: it is a real fight, and one being waged across our nation and right here in Kentucky.
We will stand with others across the state who are fighting this anti-school movement, and we will watch for signs and signals that new battles are on the horizon. In the meantime, let’s all remember, once again, those good words from Rachel Maddow when it comes to issues around our children and our public schools:
Watch what they do, not what they say.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on 4/23/18. I am reposting it today because it seems even more relevant than before.