Search results for: "legislatures"

I have always been puzzled by the indifference of state and federal legislators to widespread failure and fraud in the charter sector. The same mystery shrouds the decisions of the billionaires who keep pouring new money into new charters. No matter how many of the charters fail and close their doors, no matter how many of their founders are convicted of embezzlement or padding enrollment, no matter how many are in the state’s list of low-performing schools, the money keeps flowing.

The obvious reason that politicians support charters is because hedge funds and very wealthy donors make sizable campaign contributions. In New York, both Governor Kathy Hochul and NYC Mayor Eric Adams received millions in campaign donations from the charter boosters. We know why free-market zealots like Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch ignore the evidence: They want to privatize education. Why the Wall Street crowd continues to fund failure is a mystery.

A friend in Missouri sent me the previous post about a charter school that was taking in public money despite low academic performance. I asked him why the legislature wanted more charter schools, instead of supporting public schools. It wasn’t rational, I said.

He replied, you have to understand the Missouri legislature, and he sent me the following article. It was written by Stacey Newman, who served in the Missouri legislature for nine years. The picture she paints conjures up thoughts of Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken and Will Rogers. It’s a description of an institution where chaos, dysfunction, and drunkenness are par for the course.

Newman wrote that “dysfunction” was the legislature’s middle name.

As do most voters, I expect legislators to be serious when they take their oath of office. I want to trust they will treat their offices with reverence instead of middle school immaturity — I really do. My first late-night session as a freshman involved debate over a pornography bill. Arguments proceeded way past midnight as I was introduced to #molegafterdark. Coffee cups are allowed on House chamber desks, yet during evening sessions, many of those cups contain alcohol. I was appalled at the drunken debate, remembering how hard I campaigned just to be sitting at one of those desks. Surrounding us were the words carved at the very top of the House chamber: “Liberty, Justice, Law, Progress, Truth, Knowledge, Honor.” Yeah, right.

Hijinks abound every session — particularly as tempers flare between the Republican-controlled state House and Senate. It is routine for both chambers to be at odds as constitutional deadlines loom and members are often campaigning against each other for higher office. Legislators are permitted to carry concealed guns in the Capitol (really) and many pat their pants pockets during high stress debates, reminding everyone who has firepower. One year, I witnessed a screaming near-fistfight of legislators behind my seat as security rushed to intervene. On another late night, I prepared to hide under my desk as an armed inebriated state senator paced our side gallery in intimidation during a contentious House vote on her bill…

Yet we keep hoping for serious people to take over and heed the state motto, “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” It doesn’t say anything about hijinks. There is plenty to do: Fund public schools instead of banning history and attacking teachers; provide access to health care to those who desperately need it and allocate federal relief education dollars, for starters. Accept that masks are not the enemy during a pandemic and that vaccinations, which most elected officials in Jefferson City have received, are lifesaving. Stop with the anti-science hooey left over from the 1692 Salem witch trials. Stop pretending you are aggrieved and, for once, leave your racism and hatred of transgender kids buried at home.

Read more at:

Politico reports on vouchers this morning. Vouchers have never won a popular vote. Public opinion polls are mixed, but the response depends on how the question is worded. DeVos and her allies have found her way around the problem: go to the legislature and give strategically to key legislators. In other words, buy their support. It works.


VOUCHERS HAVE BEEN A TOUGH SELL – AT LEAST WHEN PUT TO A VOTE: President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to create a massive $20 billion block grant to expand charter and private school options for poor children. But when voters in states across the country have been asked if they want to send public money to private schools through vouchers, they’ve pretty much always said no, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Since 1978, voters in California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, Utah and Washington all rejected measures to enact private school choice programs. And the ballot referendums lost big – none of them drew support from more than 38 percent of voters. Voters in Florida and Oklahoma, in 2012 and 2016, shot down efforts to repeal so-called Blaine Amendments – which prohibit states from spending public money on religious schools and can limit a state’s ability to fund private school choice programs. [ED. NOTE: VOTERS HAVE NEVER APPROVED A REFERENDUM TO PERMIT PUBLIC MONEY TO BE SPENT IN NONPUBLIC OR RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS. THE DEVOS FAMILY SPONSORED A VOUCHER VOTE IN MICHIGAN IN 2000, AND IT WAS DEFEATED 69-31%.]


– Public polling, however, has been mixed on vouchers, with support levels ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent, said Josh Cunningham, a senior education policy specialist at the National Council of State Legislatures. “It’s probably fair to say that much of the public does not fully understand what school vouchers are,” Cunningham told Morning Education. “If anything, this history shows that going through the legislature may be an easier road towards adopting school choice policies than using the ballot.” Thanks to state lawmakers, there are 17 states (as well as D.C.) that have voucher programs, according to the council.


– The legislature is the route that Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department, has taken repeatedly over the years. DeVos, through her groups, including the American Federation for Children and All Children Matter, has pushed voucher measures – successfully – through statehouses across the country, including in Indiana in 2011. DeVos told the Philanthropy Roundtable last year that “successful advocacy requires coordinating a lot of moving parts: identifying potential legislators, educating them about the issue, getting them elected, helping them craft and pass legislation, and helping with implementation once laws are passed to ensure that programs work for children.” Showering lawmakers with money also helps – and DeVos’ groups have spent millions on candidates who support vouchers. DeVos has been blunt about the power that donations have in politics. In 1997, she wrote in Roll Call that “I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return.”

Valerie Strauss posted an article about the lobbying activities of the giant testing corporations. They spend many millions of dollars to ensure that Congress and the states understand the importance of buying their services. It would be awful for them if any state decided to let teachers write their own tests and test what they taught.


The four corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials — as well as sometimes hiring them — to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.


The analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy, says that four companies — Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill— collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.


When I visited Texas a few years ago, I wondered why Texas paid nearly $500 million to Pearson for five years of testing, but New York paid only $32 million to Pearson for the same five years. I assumed it must be a testament to the high quality lobbyists that Pearson hired in Texas, starting with Sandy Kress, who was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind and very well connected to the state’s power structure.

Some while back, I suggested on Twitter that members of Congress should get merit pay. It doesn’t seem fair that all of them are paid exactly the same, no matter how effective or ineffective they are. The same might be  said of state legislators. Why don’t they get merit pay? They are eager to impose it on teachers, based on student scores, but they don’t want it for themselves.

The problem with the idea is this: how do you judge effectiveness?

A reader has a good proposal:

I think we should push for MORE merit pay, but in this way:  our state and federal legislators should be paid based on how well their constituents are doing.  percent of unemployment, average family income, property values, crime rate, health/illness rates, etc.  Of course, they will complain about how they can’t control these factors, but it’s very similar to what we are judged on.

The Associated Press published this article about how DeSantis has unleashed a nation-wide zeal for censorship. It appeared in newspapers across the nation.

TALLAHASSEE — As he vies for the Republican presidential nomination, laws pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis have led to an upswing in banned or restricted books not only in Florida schools but also in an increasing number of other conservative states.

Florida last year became the first in a wave of red states to enact laws making it easier for parents to challenge books in school libraries they deem to be pornographic, deal improperly with racial issues or are in other ways inappropriate for students.

Books ensnared in the Florida regulations include explicit graphic novels about growing up LGBTQ+, a children’s book based on a true story of two male penguins raising a chick in a zoo and “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison that includes descriptions of child sexual abuse. Certain books covering racial themes also have been pulled from library shelves, sometimes temporarily, as school administrators try to assess what material is allowed under the new rules.

While efforts to ban books or censor education material have come up sporadically over the years, critics and supporters credit DeSantis with inspiring a new wave of legislation in other conservative states to regulate the books available in schools — and sometimes even in public libraries.

The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. last year was the highest in the 20 years the American Library Association has been tracking such efforts.

EveryLibrary, a national political action committee, said it’s tracking at least 121 proposals introduced in state legislatures this year targeting libraries, librarians, educators and access to materials. The group said 39 of those proposals would allow for criminal prosecution.

“He really is blazing a trail,” said Tiffany Justice, the Florida-based co-founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, whose members have filed challenges to books in libraries in several states. “What Ron DeSantis does that I think is effective is he uses all the levers of power to make long-term change happen.”

“Other governors,” Justice said, “are paying attention and following suit.

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law, set to take effect this summer, that could impose criminal penalties on librarians who knowingly provide “harmful” materials to minors. The law also would establish a process for the public to challenge materials and ask they be relocated to a section minors can’t access.

“It’s a perverse world when we’re talking about trying to criminalize librarians,” said Nate Coulter, executive director of the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock, which is expected to sue over Arkansas’ law.

In Indiana, school libraries will be required by July 1 to publicly post a list of books they offer and provide a complaint process for community members under a law Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed this month. In Texas, a bill creating new standards for banning books from schools that the government considers too explicit has been sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

In Oklahoma, the state school board has approved new rules that prohibit “pornographic materials and sexualized content” in school libraries and allow parents to submit formal complaints. The rules still must be approved by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt.

DeSantis insists books aren’t being banned, preferring to call the forced removal of some books “curation choices that are consistent with state standards.

“There has not been a single book banned in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said Wednesday. He later said, “our mantra in Florida is education, not indoctrination.”

Librarians, free speech advocates and some parents and educators say the push is driven by a small, conservative minority that happens to have outsized clout in Republican primaries like the one DeSantis is now competing in.

“This is all part of his plan to run for president, and he believes his vilification of books and what’s happening in public schools is his path to the presidency,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union.

Kasey Meehan, who directs the Freedom to Read program at the writers’ organization PEN America, said that, when books are targeted in Florida, they later become the subject of complaints filed by parents in other states.

“It’s something that continues to cause alarm for individuals who are advocating for the freedom to read or for a diversity of knowledge, ideas and books to be available to students across the country,” Meehan said.

There have been challenges to books in schools for decades — “The Bluest Eye” has been targeted in various states for years, long before DeSantis became governor.

But the restrictions accelerated in Florida after DeSantis signed bills last year barring discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms, a ban that has since expanded through 12th grade. He also created a mechanism for parents to challenge books in school libraries and has targeted how race is taught in Florida schools.

Many teachers and districts complain that the laws’ standards are so vague they don’t know what books might place them in legal jeopardy.

Michael Woods, a special education teacher in Palm Beach, said new rules compelling him to catalog books in his classroom led him to empty a small library he set up where students could choose to read something that interested them. Now those volumes are stored in a box he’s stashed in his closet for fear of getting in trouble.

“That kind of positive connection to reading is no longer there,” he said.

The individual challenges to books might be coming from a fairly narrow segment of the population, according to PEN and the American Library Association, which track requests to pull books. The library association said 40% of all requests challenged 100 or more books at a time.

Raegan Miller of Florida Freedom to Read, a group fighting the book restrictions, said she has talked about education issues with fellow parents of all political persuasions for years, and no one has ever complained about inappropriate material in their children’s schools. She contends the issue has been ginned up by a small group of conservative activists.

“Do you really think we are all just happily dropping our kids off at Marxist indoctrination and pornography?” Miller said. “You only hear this stuff at school board meetings.”

Moms for Liberty, which boasts 285 chapters, has a strong presence at school board meetings in the state and nationwide. It also has successfully backed several candidates for school board.

Memorial Day is a day to remember and pay tribute to the men and women who gave their lives to defend our democracy. Because of their sacrifice, we enjoy our freedoms. We are called upon not only to respect them and their sacrifices, but to be alert to today’s threats to the freedoms and rights we treasure. Voting rights are under attack. Censorship and book banning are on the rise. Red state legislatures are trying to control the blue cities in their midst. Red state legislatures are passing cookie-cutter laws to fund private and religious schools despite the opposition of the public. A woman’s right to control her body has been eliminated by red states. In a sad irony, the U.S. Supreme Court—which has long been the ultimate defender of our rights—is eroding democracy, under the control of rightwing ideologues, three of whom were appointed by Trump after being chosen by the extremist Federalist Society.

In that spirit, I post a comment by the polymath Bob Shepherd, who contributes his wisdom to us as a reader of the blog..

Pardon me, but this is so important that I want to make sure that I say the whole properly. So, some repetition here:

The Extreme Court decisions that just wiped out much of the power of the EPA to regulate air pollution (West Virginia v. EPA) and water pollution (Sackett v. EPA) in the United States are PART of an overall effort, begun in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, to ERASE much of the authority of the United States federal government on the basis of a NOVEL reinterpretation of the Constitution that ELIMINATES THE ABILITY OF THE EXECUTIVE TO EXERCISE UNENUMERATED POWERS–powers not SPECIFICALLY given it by the Constitution. This would reduce the federal government to a SHADOW of its former reach. Ron DeSantis just gave a speech in which he discussed precisely this, which he described as the necessity of “Reconstitutionalizing” our government:

“There’s a lot that the executive branch can do, and all I will say when it comes to these agencies… [is] buckle up when I get in there because the status quo is not acceptable, and we are going to make sure that we reconstitutionalize this government, and these agencies are totally out of control. There’s no accountability, and we are going to bring that in a very big way.”

In connection with this envisioned vast overhaul of U.S. governance, DeSantis made this chilling promise:

“Even my worst critics in Florida will acknowledge when I tell people I’m going to do something, I don’t make promises or say I’m going to do something lightly.”

Here’s what I think is happening: Repugnican leaders have recognized that if Jabba the Trump wins the nomination, they will lose again. So, the current plan is to remove Trump by standing aside and letting the judicial process do that for them via the various cases now pending against the Orange Idiot. That way, they can take him out of the picture while not alienating the Trumpanzees from themselves–they can blame the fall of the Glorious Leader on some Deep State conspiracy led by Biden. Then, DeSantis will assume the Orange mantle and carry forward, in the Executive branch, the agenda that the Reich-wing cabal at the head of the Judicial branch has set for itself. (NB: the Orange Idiot Trump was extremely useful to The Federalist Society because he, knowing nothing himself, simply rubber stamped putting those people in place–the ones now reenvisioning U.S. government entirely).

It is worth remembering in this regard that the revolution in Germany that scuttled democratic government there and put the Fascists under Hitler in power took place BY LEGAL MEANS. And so the history we haven’t learned from repeats itself. Couple this legal implementation of the no unenumerated powers theory with the independent state legislature theory also being endorsed by the Extreme Court (a theory that holds that state legislatures, which are predominately Repugnican, can hold do-overs if they don’t like election results) and you get the recipe for the end of democracy and the onset of Fascist governance in the United States.

This is how these traitors overthrow democratic government. In the background, not via some sort of January 6th event.

I served on the governing board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for seven years. I was appointed by President Clinton. I learned quite a lot about standardized testing during that time. I enjoyed reading test questions and finding a few that had two right answers. Two subjects where I felt confident as a reviewer, in addition to reading, were history and civics.

I was momentarily dismayed, but not surprised, to learn that the NAEP scores in history and civics had declined, as they had in reading and math, after the disruptions and closings caused by the pandemic. This is not surprising, because fewer days of instruction translates into less learning.

So we know for sure that instructional time matters. You can’t learn what you weren’t taught.

But on second thought, I realized that in these days it is almost impossible to test history and civics and get a meaningful result.

Many states, all Republican-dominated, have censored history teaching. The legislatures don’t want students to learn “divisive concepts.” They don’t want anything taught that will make students “uncomfortable.” They don’t want “critical race theory” to be taught. These ideas have been spun out at length with other vague descriptions of what teachers are NOT allowed to teach.

The people who write test questions for NAEP history are not bound by these restrictions. They are most likely writing questions about “divisive concepts” and “uncomfortable” topics. They might even ask questions that legislators might think are tinged or saturated by critical race theory.

Given the number of states that ban the teaching of accurate, factual history, it’s seems to me impossible to expect students to be prepared to take an American history test.

Even more complicated is civics. A good civics exam might ask questions about the importance of the right to vote. It might ask questions written on the assumption that vote suppression and gerrymandering are undemocratic practices that were long ago banned by the courts. Yet courts are now allowing these baleful practices to stand. How can a student understand that a discredited practice is now openly endorsed in various state laws and have not been discredited by the courts?

Civics classes typically teach that one of the great strengths of American democracy is the peaceful transition of power from one President to another. How can they teach that idea when Trump partisans insist that he won the last election and was ousted in a coup? How can teachers explain the election process when Trump says it’s rigged (he said it before the 2016 election as well)? How can students answer questions about elections and the Electoral College when Trumpers believe they were corrupted in 2020?

How can teachers teach civics when almost every GOP leader asserts that the election was stolen?

How can civics be taught when public officials defy public opinion to allow any individual to buy guns without a background check or a permit. Having bought a gun, they may wear it openly in some states and carry it concealed in some other states. Students have been practicing in case an armed killer walks into their school during the day. They need only google to learn that a majority of the public favors gun control of varying kinds. Why, they might ask their teacher, doesn’t the legislature and Congress act to protect the lives of children?

Is it worse to teach lies or to teach the truth?

The Brown Decision was released by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, precisely sixty-nine years ago. It was a historic decision in many ways. It was the beginning of the end of de jure segregation in every aspect of American society. Of course, de facto segregation persists in schools, housing, and in many aspects of life. It would have been impossible to imagine in 1954 that the nation would elect a Black man as President in 2008 and again in 2012.

The decision was unanimous. America could not claim to be a nation of freedom, liberty, democracy, and equality when people of color were excluded from full participation in every aspect of public life and walled off from the mainstream of American society in their private lives. Segregation and discrimination were hallmarks of the American way. Black people were not only restricted in the right to vote, were not only underrepresented in legislatures and other decision-making bodies, but were excluded from restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, public transport, public beaches, and from all other places of public accommodation, as well as private commerce. Segregation was imposed by law in the South and some border states, and by custom in northern, western, and midwestern states.

The Brown Decision struck a blow against this cruel reign of prejudice and bigotry in American life. We are far, very far, from fulfilling the promise of the Brown Decision. To make progress, we must be willing to look deeply into the roots of systemic racism and dismantle the structures that condemn disproportionate numbers of Black families to live in poverty and in segregated neighborhoods. A number of Republican-led states have made such inquiries illegal.

The present movement for vouchers, which is strongest in Republican-dominated states, will not move us closer to the egalitarian goals of the Brown Decision. Vouchers are inherently a divisive concept. They encourage people to congregate with people just like themselves. Heightened segregation along lines of race, religion, social class, and ethnicity are a predictable result of vouchers.

The voucher movement began as a hostile response to the Brown decision, led by racist governors, members of Congress, legislatures, White Citizens Councils, parents who did not want their children to attend schools with Black children, and white supremacists who wanted to protect their “way of life.” They refused to comply with the Supreme Court decision. They called Earl Warren a Communist. They engaged in “massive resistance.” They quickly figured out that they could fund private academies for whites only, and some Southern states did. And they figured out that they could offer “vouchers” or “scholarships” to white students to attend white private and religious schools.

I recommend three books about the history of the ties between segregationists, the religious right, and vouchers. I reviewed all three in an article called “The Dark History of School Choice” in The New York Review of Books. Although it is behind a paywall, you can read one article for free or subscribe for a modest fee.

The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, by Katherine Stewart

Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement, by Steve Suitts

Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, by Derek W. Black

In addition, I recommend Nancy MacLean’s superb Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. It links the voucher moment to the Koch brothers and other libertarians, including Milton Friedman. I reviewed it in the same journal. MacLean is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University.

Nancy MacLean wrote the following article for The Washington Post nearly two years ago. In the past two years, the voucher movement has gained even more ground in Republican-dominated states. If it is behind a paywall, you can read it here.

She wrote:

The year 2021 has proved a landmark for the “school choice” cause — a movement committed to the idea of providing public money for parents to use to pay for private schooling.

Republican control of a majority of state legislatures, combined with pandemic learning disruptions, set the stage for multiple victories. Seven states have created new school choice programs, and 11 others have expanded current programs through laws that offer taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schooling and authorize tax credits and educational savings accounts that incentivize parents moving their children out of public schools.

On its face, this new legislation may sound like a win for families seeking more school options. But the roots of the school choice movement are more sinister.

White Southerners first fought for “freedom of choice” in the mid-1950s as a means of defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which mandated the desegregation of public schools. Their goal was to create pathways for White families to remove their children from classrooms facing integration.

Prominent libertarians then took advantage of this idea, seeing it not only as a means of providing private options, but also as a tool in their crusade to dismantle public schools altogether. This history reveals that rather than giving families more school options, school choice became a tool intended to give most families far fewer in the end.

School choice had its roots in a crucial detail of the Brown decision: The ruling only applied to public schools. White Southerners viewed this as a loophole for evading desegregated schools.

In 1955 and 1956, conservative White leaders in Virginia devised a regionwide strategy of “massive resistance” to the high court’s desegregation mandate that hinged on state-funded school vouchers. The State Board of Education provided vouchers, then called tuition grants, of $250 ($2,514 in 2021 dollars) to parents who wanted to keep their children from attending integrated schools. The resistance leaders understood that most Southern White families could not afford private school tuition — and many who could afford it lacked the ideological commitment to segregation to justify the cost. The vouchers, combined with private donations to the new schools in counties facing desegregation mandates, would enable all but a handful of the poorest Whites to evade compliance.

Other Southern states soon adopted voucher programs like the one in Virginia to facilitate the creation of private schools called “segregation academies,” despite opposition from Black families and civil rights leaders. Oliver Hill, an NAACP attorney key to the Virginia case against “separate but equal” education that was folded into Brown, explained their position this way: “No one in a democratic society has a right to have his private prejudices financed at public expense.”

Despite such objections, key conservative and libertarian thinkers and foundations, including economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Human Events editor Felix Morley and publisher Henry Regnery, backed the White Southern cause. They recognized that White Southerners’ push for “freedom of choice” presented an opportunity to advance their goal of privatizing government services and resources, starting with primary and secondary education. They barely, if ever, addressed racism and segregation; instead, they spoke of freedom (implicitly, White freedom).

Friedman began promoting “educational freedom” in 1955, just as Southern states prepared to resist Brown. And he praised the Virginia voucher plan in his 1962 book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” holding it up as a model for school choice everywhere. “Whether the school is integrated or not,” he wrote, should have no bearing on eligibility for the vouchers. In other words, he knew the program was designed to fund segregation academies and saw it as no barrier to receiving state financing.

Friedman was far from alone. His fellow libertarians, including those on the staff of the William Volker Fund, a leading funder on the right, saw no problem with state governments providing tax subsidies to White families who chose segregation academies, even as these states disenfranchised Black voters, blocking them from having a say in these policies.

Libertarians understood that while abolishing the social safety net and other policies constructed during the Progressive era and the New Deal was wildly unpopular, even among White Southerners, school choice could win converts.

These conservative and libertarian thinkers offered up ostensibly race-neutral arguments in favor of the tax subsidies for private schooling sought by white supremacists. In doing so, they taught defenders of segregation a crucial new tactic — abandon overtly racist rationales and instead tout liberty, competition and market choice while embracing an anti-government stance. These race-neutral rationales for private school subsidies gave segregationists a justification that could survive court review — and did, for more than a decade before the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.

When challenged, Friedman and his allies denied that they were motivated by racial bigotry. Yet, they had enough in common ideologically with the segregationists for the partnership to work. Both groups placed a premium on the liberty of those who had long profited from white-supremacist policies and sought to shield their freedom of action from the courts, liberal government policies and civil rights activists.

Crucially, freedom wasn’t the ultimate goal for either group of voucher supporters. White Southerners wielded colorblind language about freedom of choice to help preserve racial segregation and to keep Black children from schools with more resources.

Friedman, too, was interested in far more than school choice. He and his libertarian allies saw vouchers as a temporary first step on the path to school privatization. He didn’t intend for governments to subsidize private education forever. Rather, once the public schools were gone, Friedman envisioned parents eventually shouldering the full cost of private schooling without support from taxpayers. Only in some “charity” cases might governments still provide funding for tuition.

Friedman first articulated this outlook in his 1955 manifesto, but he clung to it for half a century, explaining in 2004, “In my ideal world, government would not be responsible for providing education any more than it is for providing food and clothing.” Four months before his death in 2006, when he spoke to a meeting of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), he was especially frank. Addressing how to give parents control of their children’s education, Friedman said, “The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

Today, the ultrawealthy backers of school choice are cagey about this long-term goal, knowing that care is required to win the support of parents who want the best for their children. Indeed, in a sad irony, decades after helping to impede Brown’s implementation, school choice advocates on the right targeted families of color for what one libertarian legal strategist called “forging nontraditional alliances.” They won over some parents of color, who came to see vouchers and charter schools as a way to escape the racial and class inequalities that stemmed from White flight out of urban centers and the Supreme Court’s willingness to allow White Americans to avoid integrating schools.

But the history behind vouchers reveals that the rhetoric of “choice” and “freedom” stands in stark contrast to the real goals sought by conservative and libertarian advocates. The system they dream of would produce staggering inequalities, far more severe than the disparities that already exist today. Wealthy and upper-middle-class families would have their pick of schools, while those with far fewer resources — disproportionately families of color — might struggle to pay to educate their children, leaving them with far fewer options or dependent on private charity. Instead of offering an improvement over underfunded schools, school choice might lead to something far worse.

As Maya Angelou wisely counseled in another context, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” If we fail to recognize the right’s true end game for public education, it could soon be too late to reverse course.

Update: According to Future-Ed, citing pro-voucher EdChoice (which used to be the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation), “Currently, 32 states provide an estimated $4 billion in subsidies to some 690,000 students through tuition vouchers, education savings accounts, and tax-credit scholarships.” Several Republican-led states are considering or have already universal vouchers, which would subsidize the tuition of all students in private schools, including the children of wealthy families. Currently, most students who use vouchers were already enrolled in private and religious schools. In one state alone, Florida, the added cost of vouchers might be as much as $4 billion a year, just for the children already in private schools.

In several GOP-controlled states, the governor and legislators want to eliminate tenure for professors. Tenure protects professors from political interference in their work. Why do Republicans want to do away with it? The reason is obvious: Many Republicans think colleges and universities are dominated by leftists who indoctrinate their students. Apparently, those left wing professors aren’t doing a very good job of converting their students when you consider that Donald Trump is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania; Ted Cruz went to Princeton College and Harvard Law School; Ron DeSantis went to Yale College and Harvard Law School; and Josh Hawley went to Stanford and Yale Law School. But the attacks on higher education resonate with their base, many of whom have not enjoyed the same educational privileges.

Monica Potts of Fivethirtyeight writes about the issue here:

The GOP’s education culture wars have a new target: college professors.

Texas lawmakers are considering a bill that originally set out to completely eliminate tenure at public colleges and universities. In Ohio, lawmakers are weighing legislation that would mandate tenure reviews for professors. This year, at least three more states — North Dakota, Louisiana and Iowa — considered similar measures, although those proposals stalled.

This new wave of bills targets a long-standing and common standard of job protection for college and university professors, meant to ensure freedom of thought among academics and insulate them from political attacks. The bills that are emerging this year are part of a broader trend among conservative legislatures attacking perceived liberal teachings in high schools and public universities: Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that would require professors at public universities in the state to undergo a tenure review process every five years, saying that tenure promotes “intellectual orthodoxy.” Other Republican state leaders like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have since taken up the mantle, arguing that higher-level education is a place of liberal indoctrination and a source of “societal division.”

But the debate is about more than whether professors get to keep their jobs for life: It’s yet another sign that state-level Republicans are doubling down on appealing to their base. The partisan divide between those who go to college and those who do not is one of the firmest divides in American politics today, and it has reinforced diverging attitudes about the value of higher education itself and the role it plays in American life. Republican voters are increasingly suspicious of colleges and universities, and attacks on tenure are just the latest way the party is stoking those concerns.

Patrick’s attacks, which began last year, have been similarly focused on cultural issues, such as the teaching of critical race theory in college courses by “Marxist UT professors.” (Critical race theory, which became a hot-button topic in 2021, is an academic legal framework that asserts racism is systemic and embedded in many American institutions.) Professors, Patrick argued, have to be accountable to university leaders. University of Texas leaders and faculty pushed back against Patrick’s efforts and defended tenure as necessary for recruiting top teaching talent and retaining students. After that, the law was amended to eliminate tenure for new professors only. The Ohio legislation would regulate hiring and firing public university professors, as well as establish an annual evaluation process. The review process would include student evaluations, which ask about whether professors create an environment “free of political, racial, gender, and religious bias.”

Opponents of measures like the ones proposed in Texas and Ohio — and the law passed in Florida last year — are concerned that eliminating tenure will make educators vulnerable to politically motivated firings. The law in Florida would require the state Board of Governors (a body where 14 of the 17 members are appointed by the governor) to establish a five-year review process for professors. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s public colleges and universities already have an annual review process. While supporters have said its goal is to eliminate professors who are no longer meeting standards, most critics think — and DeSantis’s comments seem to suggest — that the motivations for removing a professor could be more political. Then-Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls told the Tampa Bay Times that the bill would prevent “indoctrination.”

Please open the link to finish the article.

Jonathan Chait wrote an excellent article about the Republican plan to control, destroy, and censor American education. It is the cover story in this week’s New York magazine.

Chait and I have long disagreed about charter schools and will continue to do so. The article does not get into privatization, and the Republicans’ determination to divert public money to religious and private schools via vouchers. Nor does it touch on the growth and scandals of the charter industry. It’s hard to ignore privatization as a main line of attacking the public purpose of public schools, but Chait covers culture war issues only.

Chait says that, in the view of conservatives, left wing indoctrination occurs in religious schools, private schools, and charter schools, so choice will not solve the problem (the problem being the left wing capture of the culture). The answer, then, for the rightwing is to capture control of the institutions and replace left wing indoctrination with rightwing indoctrination.

The article digs into the Republican effort to destroy academic freedom, freedom to teach, freedom to learn, and to turn American schools and universities into purveyors of rightwing ideology. Two central figures in this conspiracy are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and rightwing ideologue Chris Rufo.

Florida is indeed the model for the Republican attack on education. It is here that the Governor boasts about his Stop WOKE Act, which blocks teaching about topics that might cause discomfort (especially teaching factually accurate accounts of racist brutality in American politics); his Don’t Say Gay Act (which eliminates any instruction about homosexuality in K-3, recently amended to grades K-8); his successful capture of tiny progressive New College and to turn it into the Hillsdale of the South; his intention to take control of the state’s public colleges and universities, eliminate tenure, and purge progressive professors; and his encouragement of censorship of books about race, racism, and gender issues. Add to these DeSantis’ demonizing of the minuscule number of transgender students, as well as his bullying of drag queens, and you have a major state that has embraced fascism and scapegoating of powerless minorities. Florida is also notable for the billions it spends on lightly regulated charters and unregulated, unaccountable vouchers.

Readers of this blog are familiar with DeSantis’ war on public schools and higher education, and his control of curriculum and leadership. I can’t think of another state where the Governor has moved so aggressively to control every aspect of public education. Others have recognized the limits of their power. DeSantis does not.

We also know that Florida recently enacted universal vouchers, offering to subsidize the tuition of rich students. And that the wife of the Republican Speaker of the House, then state education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, now president of New College, started a charter. And that many legislators are financially tied to charters.

This article is about the culture wars, however, not privatization.

Chait writes:

Republicans have begun saying things about American schools that not long ago would have struck them as peculiar, even insane. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has called schools “a cesspool of Marxist indoctrination.” Former secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicts that “teachers’ unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids,” will “take this republic down.” Against the backdrop of his party, Donald Trump, complaining about “pink-haired communists teaching our kids” and “Marxist maniacs and lunatics” running our universities, sounds practically calm.

More ominously, at every level of government, Republicans have begun to act on these beliefs. Over the past three years, legislators in 28 states have passed at least 71 bills controlling what teachers and students can say and do at school. A wave of library purges, subject-matter restrictions, and potential legal threats against educators has followed.

Education has become an obsession on the political right, which now sees it as the central battlefield upon which this country’s future will be settled. Schoolhouses are being conscripted into a cataclysmic war in which no compromise is possible — in which a child in a red state will be discouraged from asking questions about sexual identity, or a professor will be barred from exploring the ways in which white supremacy has shaped America today, or a trans athlete will be prohibited from playing sports…

While there have been political battles over the schools for many years, but this controversy is different. Republicans are going for the jugular. They believe that “the left” has taken over the nation’s educational institutions and is determined to indoctrinate the next generation to despise their own country. Nothing could be more ridiculous, but facts don’t get in the way of their culture war.

He writes:

The Republican Party emerged from the Trump era deeply embittered. A large share of the party believed that Democrats had stolen their way back into power. But this sentiment took another form that was not as absurd or, at least, not as clearly disprovable. The theory was that Republicans were subverted by a vast institutional conspiracy. Left-wing beliefs had taken hold among elite institutions: the media, the bureaucracy, corporations, and, especially, schools.

This theory maintains that this invisible progressive network makes successful Republican government impossible. Because the enemy permanently controls the cultural high ground, Republicans lose even when they win. Their only recourse is to seize back these nonelected institutions….

“Left-wing radicals have spent the past 50 years on a ‘long march through the institutions,’” claims Manhattan Institute fellow and conservative activist Chris Rufo, who is perhaps the school movement’s chief ideologist. “We are going to reverse that process, starting now.”

Many institutions figure in Republicans’ plans. They are developing proposals to cleanse the federal workforce of politically subversive elements, to pressure corporations to resist demands by their “woke employees,” and to freeze out the mainstream media. But their attention has centered on the schools. “It is the schools — where our children spend much of their waking hours — that have disproportionate influence over American society, seeding every other institution that has succumbed to left-wing ideological capture,” writes conservative commentator Benjamin Weingarten.

Republicans are afraid that the liberal bias of schools and colleges is turning their children into liberals, intent on advancing social justice. They feel a sense of urgency about gaining control of these agencies of indontrination.

DeSantis’ approach is straightforward: Taxpayers pay for schools. Why shouldn’t they control them? Why shouldn’t they tell them what to teach and what not to teach?

Chait errs in describing Florida’s efforts to restrict the accurate teaching of African American history. He writes:

It is possible for legislatures to restrict some of the pedagogical fads of recent years without preventing children from learning unvarnished historical truths about slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and its aftermath. Reports have described bans on lessons that make students feel guilty, when they have merely restricted lessons that instruct them to feel guilty, a reasonable thing to ask. Commentators on the internet likewise depicted Florida as banning the teaching of African American history, when in fact the state merely objected to elements of the AP African American History curriculum, ultimately resulting in a revised version.

This is understating the active role that the DeSantis team played in squashing the brutal facts about African American history in Florida and the U.S. The Stop WOKE Act banned teaching “critical race theory,” which most people can’t define but assume that it refers to systemic racism. The DeSantis team has banned textbooks in math and social studies that showed any interest in “social justice.”

DeSantis and his education commissioner didn’t “merely object” to parts of the AP African American History course, they threatened to exclude the AP course and test from the state’s schools altogether, a move that would likely be followed by other deep red states. This hits the College Board where it hurts, in their revenues. DeSantis has objected not only to CRT, but to “social-emotional learning,” which he sees as indoctrination but which typically means exercises in perseverance, self-control, and other workaday approaches to collaboration and respect for others. Like what I learned in elementary school many decades ago.

Are there teachers who go too far in imposing their own beliefs (from both the left and the right)? Surely. But Chait observes:

A broader problem with the wave of conservative legislation is that it is responding to a wildly hyperbolic version of reality. In a very large country with a fragmented education system, there are going to be plenty of examples of outrageous or radical teaching in the schools on a daily basis without necessarily indicating anything about the system’s overall character. As conservatives grew alarmed about left-wing teachers, their favorite media sources started curating examples of it to stoke their outrage.

DeSantis projects Florida as a model for the nation, and he looks to Hungary as a model for Florida. Its leader Viktor Orban has tamed the universities by controlling them. Chris Rufo recently spent a month in Hungary, learning how Orban has silenced the left.

Orbán’s example has shown the government’s power over the academy can be absolute. DeSantis is simply the first Republican to appreciate the potential of this once-unimaginable use of state power to win the culture wars. Even before DeSantis’s plan has passed, Republicans in North Carolina, Texas, and North Dakota rushed out bills to eliminate tenure for professors.

I urge you to read the article in full. Aside from his leaving out privatization as the keystone of the Republican attack on public schools, the article fails to mention the big money behind the culture wars and privatization. DeVos, Walton, Koch, Yass. They are an important part of the story. And there are many more (I have a long list of billionaires, foundations, and corporations funding privatization in my book Slaying Goliath.)

Chait’s incisive analysis is a good primer for the elections of 2024. Implicit are the many reasons why Democrats must be prepared to defend teachers and professors, to protect both schools and universities from the takeovers planned by Republican legislators, to gear up for the fight against censorship, to resist incipient fascism, and to hold the line for our democratic principles.