John Kuhn is an eloquent, wise superintendent in Texas who spreads truth to power.

In this address to the Association of Texas Professional Educators, he warned that the very existence of public education was under fire by a coalition of the rich and the greedy.

He is so brilliant, so eloquent, and so on target that it is hard to excerpt his speech. I urge you to read it in full. If you know anyone in Texas, share it. Send it to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the politician who wants to monetize and privatize the state’s underfunded public schools. That’s his game. That’s his shame. Be sure to tweet JOHN Kuhn’s speech to Dan Patrick @DanPatrick and @LtGovTX

Kuhn says:

“It all really comes down to vouchers. This has been the end-game the whole time. Going back through the decades from TABS to TEAMS to TAAS to TAKS to STAAR [the acronyms for successive state tests], it was never about assessing student learning. It was always about smearing teachers and manufacturing a crisis. Vouchers were always a solution in search of a problem, and the test-and-punish industrial complex arose to create that problem. In reality, testing has always shown us the same thing, always. Well-off and middle class American public school students academically outperform kids from private schools and kids from other nations, when matched socioeconomically. And poor American kids outperform poor kids in those other countries and in private schools, when matched socioeconomically. It is only when you lump all the kids together–because we have so many more poor kids testing than they systems they compare us to–that American public school results look bad. It is a trick. We don’t have an educational problem. We have a social inequality problem that politicians and privatizers dress up as an educational problem. And this statistical sleight of hand, this deliberate misdirection has one goal: to justify the need for vouchers and the dismantling of public education as a state responsibility.

“The voucher movement is about money and adult interests. It isn’t about children. It’s not even mostly about parents who want a discount on their private school tuition; it’s mostly about the interests of other adults, very wealthy adults. It’s about the interests of tycoons and political players who are funding school voucher campaigns across our state and nation not because they want to improve schools, but because they want to engineer a cheaper education so their property taxes will go down. They want to hobble teachers’ unions and reduce wages and benefits. And on top of cheapening a system that already has one of the lowest levels of per pupil spending in the nation, Texas privatizers also want to make money on theback end, they want a piece of the education pie, which billionaire school choice advocate Rupert Murdoch said was a $500 billion dollar industry just waiting to be “transformed.” He meant to say hijacked.

“They don’t really want a piece of the education pie. They want the whole thing. They want to convert a public good into a private enterprise. They want to take this public education system that was created by wiser and more selfless people long ago as a public trust, that belongs to the people—controlled by voters engaged in the Democratic process, free to attend, and open to all children—this is the vision of public education as we know it, and this is what is facing an existential threat….

Texas voters and Texas lawmakers have rejected vouchers over and over again. But the voucher lobby cynically repackages the idea under new and confusing names. Let’s call vouchers Opportunity Scholarships. The voters figured that out, time to change the name. Let’s call them Education Savings Accounts. Let’s call them School Choice. Let’s rebrand them over and over until everyone is thoroughly confused and don’t realize they’re voting for vouchers. The Dallas Morning News had a better term for vouchers in a recent headline: “Private School Vouchers are the Fool’s Gold of Better Education.”

Fool’s gold. Pyrite. A worthless material that is just shiny enough to trick the uninformed into believing that it has value. That’s exactly what vouchers are, even if you call them something else. And why would you call them something else? Why would voucher advocates feel the need to trick people by re-branding their pet policy?

Maybe it’s because vouchers are a terrible idea. Maybe they change the name because the research is in, and it’s clear: vouchers just don’t work. In fact, research shows unequivocally that vouchers don’t just fail to make student achievement better; they actually make student achievement demonstrably worse. Vouchers aren’t the civil rights movement of our time; they’re the civil wrongs movement of our time, hurting the children they pretend to help. Three different research studies published recently have found that voucher programs harm student learning—including one study sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both proponents of vouchers. Students who use vouchers underperform their matched peers who stay in public schools.

You heard me right. I’m not just saying that vouchers don’t help very much. I’m saying voucher programs result in students learning less than if the voucher programs didn’t exist. Giving a student a voucher to improve his education is like giving a struggling swimmer a boulder to help him swim. The Walton Foundation study said: “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.” A study of the voucher program in Louisiana found very negative results in both reading and math. Kids who started the voucher program at the 50th percentile in math dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Vouchers are so harmful to children that a Harvard professor called their negative effect “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature.”

Vouchers should come with a surgeon general’s warning like cigarettes. The third study was of a voucher program involving over 10,000 students in Indiana—where our vice president was governor—and it found this: “In mathematics, voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement” and show no improvement in reading. Vouchers are not only not helpful—they’re harmful. And they are not only harmful—they are more harmful than any other educational initiative Harvard researchers have ever seen. They are the educational equivalent of smoking cigarettes to treat lung disease. And the voucher lobby treats research exactly like the tobacco lobby does, by paying think tanks to generate copious amounts of pseudo-science and internet content to try and generate support for the harmful ideology behind their business venture.

In the face of this data showing indisputably that vouchers make things worse for struggling students, why then are vouchers still the big focus this session from so many Texas and Washington political insiders? It’s simple really, and sad. It’s because the voucher push isn’t about student performance at all. That isn’t what this is about. It’s about money in the pockets of adults. Vouchers are not, never were, and never will be about kids….

So I ask what is worse? A government in 1836 so blind to the needs of its citizens that it failed to create a system of public education, or a government in 2017 so deeply held hostage by cronyism and corruption that it is actively, session after session, year after year, trying to dismantle a system of public education that has already been created, a system that was built by the treasure and efforts of many selfless generations of Texas taxpayers and teachers, a system that has expanded since 1836 to cover every square inch of the state, to educate every Texas child who wants to be educated, for free, children of every race and color and creed, regardless of ability or disability, regardless of which side of the tracks they were born on, regardless of their home language or any other personal characteristic. Public schools are for the children. Vouchers are for cronies and conmen. When rich elites refuse to invest in the education of the children of the poor, they sow seeds of disenchantment that eventaually unravel the social fabric. They don’t realize what a dangerous game they play.

The public education movement was and is and will always be about the interests of poor and middle class children and families who see education as their path to a more prosperous future. The voucher movement is about funneling tax dollars to schools that have the right to exclude kids that don’t fit their mold. Voucher schools will have academic entry requirements to keep out the riff raff. Voucher schools will have behavior contracts to keep out the riff raff. Voucher schools will have parent volunteering requirements to keep out the riff raff. The voucher schools will have fees for extracurricular activities, fees for books, fees for uniforms, fees to keep out the riff raff.

But they aren’t riff raff. They’re children, and they are all welcome in our public schools.

The voucher movement rests on a foundational lie that the free market will sort good schools from bad when parents choose. But this is smoke and mirrors, because they have no intention for the marketplace of schools to be truly free. The voucher movement wants to create a system in which public schools give STAAR tests—lots of STAAR tests—but the voucher schools give none. That’s not a free market. That’s the government picking winners and losers. And the voucher movement wants public schools graded with A-F grades based on those STAAR tests, but it doesn’t want the voucher schools graded on the same A-F scale, because A-F grades for schools are based on the STAAR TESTS that voucher schools will never ever be required to give. School vouchers are not a free market, they are the government picking winners and losers and guaranteeing that the winners will be private schools that are exempt from the crushing bureaucratic regulations that our state and federal governments have heaped upon the state’s public schools for decades.

It is a cynical ploy, a corrupt, self-serving campaign. Vouchers are not about children, they are 100% about adult interests.

And school choice is not really about giving students their choice of schools. The best private schools cost over $20,000 per year in tuition. The state is talking about giving out $5000 vouchers. That won’t get poor kids into leafy green academies, it will get them into pop-up franchises that some of the voucher lobby’s largest donors are going to launch all over the state. It will get them into online for-profit schools where one teacher at a computer will “teach” 400 kids clicking through modules online, and we will all pretend this is an education, that this clicking through modules is preparing those kids to be engaged, civically-minded, well-rounded citizens.

I’m just going to say that a real education should look a lot like real life, with flesh and blood encounters with teachers and classmates, face-to-face interactions with diverse friends and neighbors, conflicts and shared lunches, recesses and sports teams, student councils and class officers and mums and bonfires, parades down main street led by the band, and news clippings in the gas station about a buzzer-beater win. Letter jackets and class rings, kissing in the stairwell, loud stereos in the parking lot and quiet tears in the counselor’s office. This is the hum and rattle of community, the pulse, the heartbeat of our neighborhoods, this is public school.

Public schools are about the children. Public schools mold the future when they educate our kids, and they always have. When our politicians brag about how great Texas is and how strong the economy is, remind them that it was public school teachers, not politicians, who built Texas, and we built it by educating 95% of the students in this state.