Archives for category: Accountability

Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters seems to have absorbed all his talking points from ALEC, the rightwing bill mill or he may just be trying to duplicate whatever Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is doing. All the talking points are there about critical race theory, “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the “science of reading,” the fear of students turning transgender or being recognized as such, the readiness to censor anything that mentions sexuality or gender, and of course, vouchers for home schoolers and religious schools.

Superintendent Walters adds another item to his “reform” agenda: pay for performance, which has been tried for a century and never worked anywhere. It is hard to find an educational program that has been more thoroughly discredited, especially in the past dozen years. Performance these days equals test scores, and the teachers in the most affluent schools always come out in top, while those who teach the most vulnerable children are always on the bottom. No need to reinvent that broken wheel. Even Republican legislators know instinctively that “performance,” defined as test scores favors those in the whitest, most advantaged schools.

John Thompson, historian and former teacher, writes:

Last week, rightwing Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters tried to “Shove ‘Choice’ Down the Throats of Unwilling Schools and Parents,” but he received serious pushback by influential Republicans for ignoring legislative norms in budget-making. This week, Walters’ revealed more of his plans to divide and conquer public schools, while ramping up the stakes for educators who don’t comply with ambiguous and weird mandates. The response by numerous Republicans, however, seems to indicate that a bipartisan effort against Walters’ and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s extremism is growing.

Walters started the Board of Education meeting, where his budget was presented with a prayer, which included a “reference to his school choice goals.” He then condemned “a loud and vocal crowd, a minority for sure, that say that all that is needed to fix the problems in education is to toss more money and to leave everything alone.” Walters then promised:

“There will be school choice. We will ensure that indoctrination and CRT (critical race theory) are eliminated in our state. We will also make sure that our kids are safe. There will be no boys in the girls bathrooms. There will be no pornography in our schools. We will make sure all of our vendors and the schools are focused on education and not diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Then, Walters met with rural superintendents in Atoka, the home of the Republican Speaker of the House Charles McCall, who has opposed voucher expansion. Walters explained that his “incentive pay plan that would reward a select few highly rated teachers in each school with up to $10,000 on top of their salaries.”

Walters then complained that:

“Tulsa has done so poor that if you took Tulsa Public Schools out of what we’re doing, we’re in the top half nationally. If you take Tulsa and OKC out, we’re in the top 15.”

So, the Tulsa World reported that Walters said:

“He would be open to pushing for Tulsa Public Schools to be broken up into smaller schools because of academic results there he says are dismal and parents who complain they are locked in because they can’t afford private school tuition and suburban schools bursting at the seams.”

At the same time, Walters’ allies are revealing more options for punishing educators who don’t comply with confusing mandates. While Walters seems to be backing off from his suggestion that all federal education funds be rejected, Sen. David Bullard filed a bill to “develop a ten-year plan to phase out the acceptance and use of federal funds for the support of K-12 education.” Sen. Shane Jett would “add seven more prohibited topics to House Bill 1775, which bans eight race and gender concepts from K-12 schools.” Jett and Rep. Terry O’Donnell seek to ban “teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to elementary-age children,” And Jett “would outlaw any school policies that respect or promote ‘self-asserted sex-based identity narratives,’” as well as hosting “drag queen story time.”

Moreover, Sen. Cody Rogers “would prohibit school employees from calling students by names or pronouns that differ from the students’ birth certificates, unless having received written consent from the child’s parent.” Rep. Danny Williams would completely ban sex education from public schools.

Then, it was learned, Walters fired the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Assistant general counsel Lori Murphy. The veteran attorney was “known for her support of transgender people and objections to the state’s rulemaking on classroom race and gender discussions.”

And the Tulsa World reported, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education responded to Walters’ “urgent request” to audit spending on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs. The Regents, “scrambled hundreds of employees to compile a 10-year review of its spending history on and current materials used for … DEI programs.” They found that DEI spending was “a third of 1%” of the budget.

But, on the eve of submitting his budget to the legislature, Walters, as well as his ally Gov. Stitt, faced more bad news. As the Oklahoman reports, Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who defeated Stitt’s appointee, John O’Conner, announced an “investigation into misspent education funds” which “hung over the state Capitol on Wednesday.” As an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found, Connors’ lawsuit led “some critics to question whether the lawsuit was an honest attempt to recoup the funds.” Consequently, The Oklahoman reported, “some high-ranking lawmakers appeared hesitant to heed funding requests from Oklahoma’s new state superintendent because of his alleged part in the controversy.” The reason was it was “a mix of Walters’s and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s staff, not a state agency [that] was overseeing the program.”

The Republican Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget subcommittee for Education, Mark McBride, said (and Speaker Charles McCall confirmed) he had been authorized to investigate the lawsuit, and was wrong in not doing so. But now, as Nondoc reports, A.G. Drummond said he “would pursue accountability for state officials, potentially including Walters owing to his prior role as director of an organization tasked with dispersing the funds.” (for what it’s worth McCall, a likely candidate for governor, attended the budget presentation.)

The Tulsa World added that Stitt had blamed the parent company of ClassWallet for the “unflattering audit of federal pandemic relief funds under Stitt’s control.” But, the audit was critical of how the Stitt administration spent $31 million to provide pandemic relief for students’ educational needs.”

Nondoc further explained that Walters’ presentation to the committee “took the opportunity with some of the lawmakers’ questions to expound on campaign rhetoric, including addressing questions regarding his ‘liberal indoctrination’ comments and past declarations to get federal funding out of Oklahoma public education.” And, his two-point plan, funding “science of reading” and pay-for-performance, drew plenty of criticism.

Republican Rhonda Baker, chair of the Common Education Committee, told Walters, “We have, as a legislative body, voted on the science of reading.” She added, “We’ve been very supportive of that, and we have made sure that there has been funding for that, so none of that is new. What is challenging, though, … is that we are not keeping teachers.”

Moreover, Democrat Rep. Andy Fugate said Walters performance pay plan would backfire by drawing teachers away from high-challenge schools and finding schools where “it’s easiest to teach.” Similarly, McBride said:

“Merit pay, I’m OK with it if you work in the oil field or some industry, but in education I just don’t see it working. … If you’ve got a classroom of troubled youth, how do you compare that to the classroom over here where the teacher’s got all the A and B students? It’s just almost impossible to me to evaluate that.”

I’ve heard mixed appraisals as to whether Walters really believes his own words. Regardless, as his ideology-driven claims become more extreme, it seems more likely that there will be more bipartisan pushback against Walters, Stitt, and MAGA true-believers. And, who knows, maybe it will open the door to Republican Adam Pugh’s bill, based on discussions with hundreds of superintendents and education leaders and over a thousand educators, that “would spend $241 million on teacher pay raises, guarantee 12 weeks of maternity leave for teachers and offer $15 million in scholarships to future educators who pledge to work in high-poverty schools,” while bestowing respect on teachers.

Dave Dewitt, editor-in-chief of the Ohio Capital Journal, wrote a blistering critique of the state’s political leadership, who place the interests of the private sector above the common good of the public.

Many Ohioans pay taxes for schools but don’t have school-age children. Their taxes are meant to fund quality public schools because having educated citizens is a public good. Sending their money to unaccountable for-profit, private, and religious schools is a terrible abuse.

Compelling taxpayers to support private interests at the expense of public ones is not only unethical, but unconstitutional when those private interests intertwine with religion. American taxpayers should never be forced to fund the efforts of religious institutions of any kind. Not one red cent.

The very first clause in the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights is couched firmly in that defining principle. The entire basis for making “no law respecting an establishment of religion” the first clause was “Father of the Constitution” James Madison’s takedown of anti-Constitution Patrick Henry’s proposal to send taxpayer money to support religious institutions.

Nevertheless, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has put forward a budget proposal to expand school voucher subsidies that would send money to private, for-profit, and religious ventures. Prominent Ohio Republican Statehouse leaders appear to be on board.

From Cleveland.com’s Laura Hancock:

“Families are eligible for EdChoice scholarships by either living in the boundaries of a low-performing school or by household income. Currently, a family of four can qualify for state money if the household income is at or below $69,375, or 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The limit would increase to 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which would be $111,000 for a family of four, under DeWine’s proposal. …”

EdChoice vouchers are distributed as checks given to private schools to help cover a student’s tuition. The scholarship amount is currently $5,500 for students in grades k-8 and $7,500 for grades 9-12. Republicans who control the legislature expanded vouchers in 2012, 2020, and 2021.

So vouchers are already available to low-income households and in low-performing districts, which means the only reason to increase the voucher threshold to 400% is for a massive sweetheart giveaway to private interests.

DeWine’s budget also would increase per-student building funding for all charter schools from $500 to $1,000 per student — a 100% bump — and provide an extra $3,000 for each economically disadvantaged student, or a student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch — up from $1,750 currently.

DeWine, Hancock notes, did not propose any extra per-student money for traditional public education.

Sadly, American public education was marked as a $500 billion a year opportunity for private profiteering some time ago, and Ohio has been leading the way.

 Getty Images.

Over the past several decades, Ohio’s seen one boondoggle after another.

Ohio taxpayers were ripped off by hundreds of millions of dollars, and nearly 12,000 Ohio schoolchildren and their families left in the lurch, when the ECOT schemedreamed up on a Waffle House napkincrashed and burned in 2018.

Another for-profit charter school operator called White Hat Management drained $67 million a year away from Ohio public schools before low test scores and soaring high school dropout rates led to a lawsuit from school boards and its eventual demise.

Dayton Daily News’ Josh Sweigart has uncovered a smattering of cases the past decade, including nepotistic hiring, undocumented purchasing, and charter school board members overpaying themselves.

Meanwhile, Ohio Capital Journal’s Zurie Pope revealed in reporting this past summer that the proposed “Backpack Bill” legislation last General Assembly to send public education money to private schools by the head was written with help from religious lobbying group the Center for Christian Virtue (CCV) and a think tank that promotes charter schools.

Promotion for the so-called “Backpack Bill” law featured CCV President Aaron Baer speaking at a press conference for it, and documents obtained by OCJ also revealed behind-the-scenes advice and promotion by outside groups like Heritage Action and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC even held a luncheon for lawmakers at the Statehouse promoted as a “Backpack Bill Briefing.”

All of this has come amid a decades-long right-wing assault on public education itself, only becoming more venomous and destructive in recent years.

But by wide margins, parents express satisfaction with their kids’ schools, and educational outcomes over the past 50 years in America have only steadily improved. From Education Next:

Contrary to what you may have heard, average student achievement has been increasing for half a century. Across 7 million tests taken by U.S. students born between 1954 and 2007, math scores have grown by 95 percent of a standard deviation, or nearly four years’ worth of learning. Reading scores have grown by 20 percent of a standard deviation during that time, nearly one year’s worth of learning.

The narrative of “failing public schools” has been manufactured by corrupt private school bloodsuckers looking to wet their beaks in the public school money pot.

Aside from its false pretenses, it undercuts funding and saps the ability of public schools to address real problems.

The biggest achievement gap in American education is directly tied to poverty. Exacerbating this situation is the fact that Ohio has had unconstitutional property tax-based school funding for 25 years. Wealthy districts do great, while low-income districts suffer mightily.

We have ample empirical evidence to prove that the way to address the poverty achievement gap is by robustly funding public schools to institute best practices: early childhood education; a well-rounded school experience including culture, sports, and the arts; extra-curricular activities that give students a sense of purpose; community-minded and community-building schools; cooperative learning.

But initiatives like these are the very things money-strapped districts are forced to cut first, alongside practical necessities like busing or the teachers themselves.

DeWine’s proposed budget does include money for things such as early childhood education, and he has already awarded significant grants for it, which is commendable.

But he seems to want to balance this politically with a massive giveaway of public dollars to private school interests and the religious zealots aligned with CCV, which is unacceptable.

Many Ohio taxpayers — even those who don’t have children or whose children are no longer school-age — are happy to help fund public schools.

We understand that quality public schools increase property values and make our communities attractive places to live, which helps them thrive.

We want our communities and our public schools to thrive.

What most Ohio taxpayers do not want is our public schools to continue to suffer as money and resources are siphoned away from them to prop up private, for-profit, and religious interests.

But when it comes to funding those interests, or fully and fairly funding Ohio’s public schools, Republican Statehouse leaders have continually legislated for the private interests.

The vultures have poll-tested their messaging, so they love to talk about “school choice,” “parents’ rights,” and “funding the students, not the system.”

This is a smooth evasion that attempts to elide the fact that the question isn’t about whether parents have a choice where to send their kids for schooling; everybody already does.

What these interests are asking for are endless direct state subsidies to their private enterprises and religious institutions.

And that’s what DeWine and these lawmakers stand prepared to keep giving them, on our dime and at the expense of our public schools.

Every Ohio public school faces a yearly audit, but no such requirement exists for private schools receiving public vouchers. Why not? If public money is continually funneled into these schools, why are they not subjected to the same auditing standards as public schools to make sure that money is actually going toward appropriate education of students?In an analysis of one proposed bill, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Commission found that two-thirds of kids getting vouchers in Ohio’s expansion program have never been in public schools.

So that means that these kids aren’t being “rescued” from public schools; they were never going to public schools in the first place. This is pure state subsidy of private school tuition. As the LSC puts it, these are “existing nonpublic school students that represent a new state responsibility.”

Do the private schools lead to greater academic success?

A Cincinnati Enquirer analysis of nearly 2.5 million test scores from schools in more than 150 Ohio cities during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years found that in 88% of the cities, the public district achieved better state testing results than the private schools.

Given all this, what assurances are Ohioans being given that our money will not be misused as it has been in the past? If this money is coming out of public school funding, what guarantees do we have that our public schools will be fully funded under the new Fair Funding plan?

 COLUMBUS, OH — JANUARY 31: Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) takes questions from the press following State of the State Address, Jan. 31, 2023, in the Warren G. Harding Briefing Room at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Ohio Senate Republicans led by President Matt Huffman have made clear they want the full “Backpack Bill” pushed by the CCV. That would be the biggest win possible for the private interests. As this DeWine proposal is brought and negotiated between the House and Senate, it looks likely to become, essentially, “Backpack Bill Light.”

I’m not holding my breath for full, fair public school funding. Legislators repeatedly steamroll DeWine and there’s no reason to think they won’t on this. There’s only one pot. It’s meant for high-quality public schools. But they always turn their backs on our public schools in favor of the private interests.

I come from a family of educators: My mom, a longtime teacher and junior high school principal; my sister, a primary school special education teacher; my grandmother, a high school teacher; my other grandmother, a school librarian; my grandfather, a school teacher and later the dean of a Kent State University branch.

I grew up surrounded by public educators, both at school and at home. I grew up generally believing that we as a society agreed about the importance and value of public education.

It came as a great shock to me when I entered adulthood that there are incredibly well-funded private interests working every day to undermine and rob our public schools.

Then I started seeing one for-profit school scam after another in Ohio, and realized that our state government was actively stoking the grift.

When I ask the public educators I know for their thoughts, many tell me there’s a definite role for traditional charters and private schools for the maybe 10% of students best off at them, but it’s unconscionable to rob the other 90% of public school students and prioritize the 10%.

That seems reasonable.

Traditional charter and private schools have a place, but they must face just as much scrutiny and accountability and auditing as our public schools if they are to receive our money.

And propping up private schools should never, ever come at the expense of our already woefully unsupported public schools.

We need to dedicate ourselves to a positive vision of the wonderful beacons our public schools can be when we invest in them, when we support them, when we encourage them to be creative, and when we give them the resources and opportunity to thrive.

Public education is not failing. Ohio politicians are failing to prioritize and invest in public education.

Florida has become a Petri dish for potential fascism. DeSantis has made war on African Americans, on gays, on transgender people, on drag queens, on public schools, on higher education, even on private corporations (Disney). He likes to stand behind signs that declare Florida is “free,” but no one is free to disagree with him. That’s not freedom.

Now DeSantis has proposed to create a military force that answers only to him. To call out the National Guard, he must get federal permission. That’s not good enough for him. He wants a Florida state guard. Some other states have them, but they are not in the hands of a would-be dictator whose vanity knows no limits.

CNN reports:

St, Petersburg, Florida (CNN) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to reestablish a World War II-era civilian military force that he, not the Pentagon, would control.

DeSantis pitched the idea Thursday as a way to further support the Florida National Guard during emergencies, like hurricanes. The Florida National Guard has also played a vital role during the pandemic in administering Covid-19 tests and distributing vaccines.

But in a nod to the growing tension between Republican states and the Biden administration over the National Guard, DeSantis also said this unit, called the Florida State Guard, would be “not encumbered by the federal government.” He said this force would give him “the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible.” DeSantis is proposing bringing it back with a volunteer force of 200 civilians, and he is seeking $3.5 million from the state legislature in startup costs to train and equip them.

States have the power to create defense forces separate from the national guard, though not all of them use it. If Florida moves ahead with DeSantis’ plan to reestablish the civilian force, it would become the 23rd active state guard in the country, DeSantis’ office said in a press release, joining California, Texas and New York. These guards are little-known auxiliary forces with origins dating back to the advent of state militias in the 18th century. While states and the Department of Defense share control of the National Guard, state guards are solely in the power of a governor.

Will DeSantis use his state guard to break up peaceful demonstrations? Will he send it to drag shows to close them down? Will he it to harass teachers accused of being woke? The possibilities are frightening.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt wants voters to believe that his push for vouchers comes from the “grassroots.” Not true. The last time vouchers came to a vote in the legislature, they were defeated by Republicans, especially rural Republicans who understand the importance of their public school.

Ben Felder of The Oklahoman got copies of internal correspondence and learned that the voucher campaign is funded by the Walton Family Foundation and organizations created by Charles Koch.

Is Governor Stitt believes that the people of Iklahoma want vouchers, why doesn’t he put it to a vote? Why let out-of-state billionaires defund the already underfunded public schools of Oklahoma. Take it to the people! Let them decide!

Two of the reddest states in the nation had the largest numbers of people signing up for Obamacare. This reflects the size of their population but also their needs. Their governors may rant against the federal government and its programs, but actions speak louder than words. The public wants what the politicians deride. Yet the public elects the people who deny their basic needs.

Florida led the way with the highest number of people in the country who signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, with more than 3.2 million people enrolling, or 20 percent of the country’s totals.

A record 16.3 million people nationwide signed up for plans on the federal health insurance exchange during the open enrollment period, which began Nov. 1 and ended on Jan. 15, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported Wednesday.

In Florida, enrollment ballooned to 3.2 million, a 19% jump over last year’s open enrollment period under the health law, commonly known as Obamacare.

The 3.2 million represents 20 percent of all enrollees nationwide, even though Florida, the third most populous state in the country with 22 million people, accounts for only about 7 percent of the U.S. population…

For University of Miami professor Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, an expert on the Affordable Care Act, Florida’s enrollment spike is likely an indication ofoutreach efforts, a lack of jobs that provide health coverage, and that Florida is one of 11 states that did not expand Medicaid eligibility through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

About 425,000 adults in Florida don’t have health insurance because they are too poor to qualify for coverage under the ACA and the state hasn’t expanded Medicaid, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. More than half of those adults are Hispanic or Black.

“It shows that there’s a major need for health insurance in our state,” said Carrasquillo, who serves as UM’s dean for Clinical and Translational Research and is also co-director of the Clinical Translational Science Institute.

Almost a million Floridians could lose their Medicaid coverage starting in April once the federal COVID-19 emergency comes to an end, and because Florida didn’t expand its Medicaid eligibility.

Floridians fall into this coverage gap because their incomes fall above the state’s eligibility for Medicaid but below the federal poverty line, making them ineligible for Medicaid, a health insurance program run jointly by the federal government and states.

They would also be ineligible for coverage within the Affordable Care Act marketplace. To qualify for Medicaid in Florida, parents must earn less than 31 percent of the federal poverty line, or less than $6,807 for a family of three, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates.

Texas has the second-highest enrollment in Affordable Care Act plans among states that used the federal marketplace, with 2.4 million enrollees, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article271638107.html#storylink=cpy

When Republican Matt Bevin was Governor of Kentucky, the state legislature passed a bill in 2017 authorizing charter schools. The law mandated that Louisville open a charter school. When it came time to set up a funding mechanism for charters, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear vetoed it.

When it came time to open a charter school, no one applied. The usual chains were not interested in opening a charter without funding.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported:

Last year, Kentucky lawmakers demanded that school district leaders in Louisville seek and approve at least one application for a charter school in 2023.

Just one problem: No one applied.

Jefferson County Public Schools’ charter school information portal shows just one group formally notified the district of their intent to apply. The group, however, did not end up actually doing that.

Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman similarly confirmed Thursday no one applied to open a charter school in Northern Kentucky – the second location mandated to have a charter. District leaders in that region get until July 1, 2024 under state law.

Dan Rather and Elliott Kirschner write a blog called Steady. Their voice is always thoughtful, reasonable, informed, and…steady. I think that they, like me, are old enough to remember when we believed that overt racism was ebbing and that white supremacy was dead. Our hopes have been shattered since 2016. It takes the use of critical race theory to understand why we were so naive. Here is their take on the big Education story of the day:

Photo credit: Octavio Jones

Editor’s note: this is an ironic banner in front of DeSantis. Florida is not free for those who don’t share his ideology. If you think racism exists today in Florida, you are not free to discuss it in school or college. You are free to agree with him.

Rather and Kirschner write:

Much of American history is entangled with racism and white supremacy. That is the reality of our beloved nation, no matter how much we wish it were not.

As we sit here nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century, it is obvious that we need to have the maturity to look back to our past as well as ahead to the future. Can we do this with our eyes wide open? Will we study and learn from the lessons of history?

You can’t grapple with the truth if you hide it from view. Yes, our national narrative is an inspiring one — of freedom, rights, and new opportunities. But it is also a narrative of pain — of the bondage, rape, and murder of enslaved people. It is a story of mass death, broken treaties, and land stolen from Native people. And it is a story of persecution of the “other,” time and again.

The chasm between the noble promises of our founding documents and our historical realities continues to obstruct our national journey toward a more perfect union.

Yes, ours is a country that has facilitated exploration, innovation, and growth, but it is also one built upon families torn apart at the auction block, bodies whipped, and police dogs and fire hoses set against children.

Cities were redlined. Public schools were segregated. And despite our carefully cultivated national image as a meritocracy, throughout our history we have seen talent overlooked and our common humanity diminished on account of people’s race, religion, and sexual orientation.

The ripples of injustice continue to destabilize our society.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say any of this. But acknowledging these truths today is a political act, because it threatens the privileged narratives of those who seek to sugarcoat our past. These are men and women who serve their own ambitions by fortifying their cynical holds on power, delighting in division, feeding off fear, and applauding anger.

And that brings us to Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis.

Listing all of his efforts to leverage the power of his office to attack equity, empathy, and justice would stretch this post immeasurably. But doing so would also jeopardize the central point: DeSantis is an opportunist. He is not weighing the merits of any one campaign. Rather, he wants headlines as a culture warrior standing up to “wokeness,” a term he has eagerly redefined to suit his own purposes. It allows him to sneer at and dismiss any attempt to reckon with American injustice.

DeSantis has focused his assaults on two of our society’s most traditionally marginalized groups: Black Americans and the LGBTQ community. While these populations have thus far felt the brunt of his targeting, we need to see clearly that his rhetoric is a threat to all who care about a democratic, peaceful, empathetic, and just America. Those of us with the greatest privilege should bear a special burden in rejecting this hate.

DeSantis’s pugilism has enabled him to consolidate power in Florida. Any opposition to his toxic initiatives must contend with the uncomfortable truth that voters validated his message and style via his landslide win in November. Now DeSantis thinks he can take his show on the road with a presidential bid. That remains to be seen. Florida has been trending Republican in recent years, and success there might not translate to the current battleground states, many of which saw big Democratic wins in the midterms.

All that being said, there is a great danger to framing this struggle primarily through the lens of electoral politics. This normalizes a discourse that should be rejected by society’s mainstream. Just as the outright bigotry of the past became socially unacceptable, so too should these latest attempts at divisiveness.

It should not surprise us that DeSantis is making schools — both K-12 and college — a central target. He wants to teach a distorted view of America. He wants to make dissenting speech not only suspect but even criminal. He wants to silence the voices of his critics and of critical thinking more generally. This is a playbook that has been followed by demagogues before to very dangerous ends.

It is essential that DeSantis not be covered by the press through a false equivalence paradigm. We can debate what we should teach and how to teach it. But we can’t replace the truth, as unsavory as it may be, with sanitized narratives that suit those already in power. This is a battle for the minds of the voters of the future. This is about what kind of nation we will become.

But DeSantis primarily cares about what kind of country we are now. He wants to appeal to fear because he thinks he can mine that fear for votes. That is his game plan. And he’s not hiding it. There can be no appeasement. DeSantis has already shown that he isn’t interested in deliberations or good faith compromise. Those would disrupt his approach of means to an end.

History illustrates that hatred can be taught, but so can empathy and justice. We are on a winding journey as a nation. And we have much farther to go. But we have made progress in the face of bigots and autocrats because people had the courage to forge the inequities of our past into a more equitable future.

This history, this truth, is what scares people like DeSantis the most. But it is one that can give us hope if we are determined not to look away.

Charlie Sykes used to be a conservative Republican. Then Trump became President, and Sykes became a Never Trumper (maybe before the election, I’m not sure). Charlie and other Never Trumpers and their friends created a website called The Bulwark. It is consistently interesting. Charlie wrote the following post.

He wrote:

When Twitter banned neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes back in December 2021, the site’s Head of Safety and Integrity, Yoel Roth said, “Hateful conduct has no place here.”

But Roth is gone, Elon Musk is in charge, and the Nazis are back.

Fuentes, last seen here as Donald Trump’s dinner guest, was reinstated just hours after another actual Nazi, Andrew Anglin— who once described his approach as “Non-ironic Nazism masquerading as ironic Nazism” — asked Musk to bring his friend back on Twitter.

Anglin tweeted Musk that the Holocaust-denying, Jew-baiting Fuentes is “a very nice person and I can vouch that he’ll never say anything mean.”

Leah McElrath @leahmcelrathThe reinstatement of the Twitter account of Nick Fuentes came hours after Andrew Anglin—editor of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer—publicly asked Elon Musk to let Fuentes back on Twitter: 2:51 PM ∙ Jan 24, 202393Likes66Retweets

Musk, apparently took him at his word, and Fuentes made his triumphant return, with his usual restraint, dignity, and class.

Image

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Who is this new Musk-whisperer?

Back in 2017, The Atlantic profiled Anglin: “The Making of An American Nazi.”

Anglin is an ideological descendant of men such as George Lincoln Rockwell, who created the American Nazi Party in the late 1950s, and William Luther Pierce, who founded the National Alliance, a powerful white-nationalist group, in the 1970s. Anglin admires these predecessors, who saw themselves as revolutionaries at the vanguard of a movement to take back the country. He dreams of a violent insurrection.

But where Rockwell and Pierce relied on pamphlets, the radio, newsletters, and in-person organizing to advance their aims, Anglin has the internet. His reach is exponentially greater, his ability to connect with like-minded young men unprecedented.

Since then, Anglin has tried to rebrand himself as just a garden-variety American Nationalist, but this is mostly eye-wash for clueless billionaires. Notes the Anti-Defamation League:

In an effort to validate their leap from neo-Nazis to flag-waving American patriots, he and his followers equate American nationalism to white nationalism by claiming America was founded on anti-Semitic and racist principles.

**

Anglin is also one of the most vicious trolls on the far-right. I wrote about him in my book, “How the Right Lost Its Mind,” describing the explosion of harassment aimed at Jewish critics of Donald Trump at the time.

Many of the worst instances of harassment were connected to a website known as the Daily Stormer and its founder, a neo-Nazi activist named Andrew Anglin.

I first became aware of the site when I received, via email, a photoshopped image of my picture inside a gas chamber. A smiling Donald Trump wearing a German military uniform is poised to press the red “gas” button. The photoshopping tool had been created by the website and was widely used to troll both Jewish and non-Jewish critics of the Trump campaign.

The site takes its name from the German Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer,which was notorious for the viciousness of its anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews. After World War II, Der Stürmer’s publisher, Julius Streicher, was executed for crimes against humanity.

Anglin created the site in 2013 as an updated version of his previous website, which he called Total Fascism. As of this writing, the new website features pictures of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump and the slogan “Daily Stormer— The World’s Most Goal-Oriented Republican Website.”

It is important to emphasize again that the Alt Right is a mansion with many rooms and some very real divisions. Anglin, for example, is not a fan of Milo Yiannopoulos, who is depicted on the Daily Stormer with a cartoon of the Jewish nose superimposed on his face and is referred to as “Filthy Rat Kike Milo.”

But Anglin is also interested in emphasizing the common ground among the various disparate groups and interests that make up the white nationalist movement. In his own guide to the Alt Right, Anglin notes that the movement included various factions, but that they had all been led “toward this center-point where we have all met. The campaign of Donald Trump is effectively the nexus of that centerpoint.”

Impressed by Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigrants, Anglin endorsed Trump in 2015 and urged the readers of the Daily Stormer to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.”

After Trump called for barring Muslims from the country, the site declared: “Heil Donald Trump— The Ultimate Savior.” But Anglin’s greatest accomplishment was the creation of what he calls his “Troll Army,” which he uses to attack political opponents, deployed to great effect in early 2016.

After GQ magazine published a profile of Melania Trump by writer Julia Ioffe, the future First Lady took to Facebook to denounce the piece as “yet another example of the dishonest media and their disingenuous reporting.” Anglin quickly mobilized his Troll Army, posting an article headlined: “Empress Melania Attacked by Filthy Russian Kike Julia Ioffe in GQ!”

The post featured a picture of Ioffe wearing a Nazi-era yellow star with the word “Jude” and a call to action from Anglin:

“Please go ahead and send her a tweet and let her know what you think of her dirty kike trickery. Make sure to identify her as a Jew working against White interests, or send her the picture with the Jude star from the top of this article.”

The result was a torrent of abuse, including death threats against the journalist.

On Twitter, she was sent pictures of Jews being shot in the head and pictures of her wearing concentration camp stripes. When she answered her phone, a caller began playing a recording of a speech by Adolf Hitler.

“The irony of this is that today,” Ioffe told the British newspaper the Guardian, “I was reminded that 26 years ago today my family came to the US from Russia. We left Russia because we were fleeing antisemitism. It’s been a rude shock for everyone.”

The response from the GOP nominee was also troubling. When Trump was asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the anti-Semitic attacks and death threats, the future president pointedly refused to condemn them, pleading ignorance and saying, “I don’t have a message to the fans. A woman wrote an article that was inaccurate.”

Trump’s refusal to denounce the Troll Army was greeted with delight by Anglin, who immediately posted: “Glorious Leader Donald Trump Refuses to Denounce Stormer Troll Army.” He exulted:

“Asked by the disgusting and evil Jewish parasite Wolf Blitzer to denounce the Stormer Troll Army, The Glorious Leader declined. The Jew Wolf was attempting to Stump the Trump, bringing up Stormer attacks on Jew terrorist Julia Ioffe. Trump responded to the request with “I have no message to the fans” which might as well have been “Hail Victory, Comrades!”

**

Fast-forward to 2023:

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Governor Ron DeSantis hates the fact that there is a progressive public college called New College that openly teaches diversity, equity, inclusion, feminist studies, ethnic studies, and gay studies. That’s WOKE, and he vowed to crush anything WOKE.

He named 6 conservatives to the 13-member board, and the board of the state university system added another, meaning that Rightwingers are in charge. A hard-right board needs a hard-right president, and they got one.

Their first meeting was this afternoon, and they are expected to appoint former State Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran as the new president. From the following story, it appears that no one bothered to let the current president of the New College know that she was being shown the door.

DeSantis is showing how to stamp out ideas he doesn’t like, with power, not subtlety. Is he a fascist or is he pretending?

A new board of trustees at New College of Florida intends to name Richard Corcoran as its next President.

Corcoran, a former House Speaker, served as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first Education Commissioner.

Carlos Trujillo, president and founder of Continental Strategy, revealed the plans in a letter to clients and colleges.

“We are beyond excited to announce that one of our Partners, former Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, will be returning to higher education to serve as the Interim — and hopeful permanent — President of the New College of Florida, in Sarasota,” Trujillo wrote.

“This move comes as part of Gov. DeSantis ongoing work to refocus the university on providing the most value to its students and their parents.”

Corcoran was a founding partner for the consulting firm.

The news comes hours before the first board meeting since DeSantis appointed six new trustees on the 13-member board. The State University System Board of Governors also appointed a new trustee with a similar conservative think tank background.

Of note, work of Corcoran’s apparent hire comes before any news of current President Patricia Okker’s future with the school. Eddie Speir, co-founder of Inspiration Academy, wrote a blog post this weekend promising to call for Okker to be renamed as interim President and to terminate all faculty and staff before deciding who still fit in the new vision for the college.

While Florida’s Sunshine Law requires all decisions by the board to be made in publicly noticed meetings, Trujillo treats the matter like a done deal.

“The selection of Richard distinguishes our firm as a leader in innovation and strategic solutions for the clients we serve. We look forward to finding new synergies that can better serve our current clients and ensure their goals are made a reality,” his letter reads.

Republicans in Texas are obsessed with voter fraud. Trump won the state in 2020, as did the Republican Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and other statewide offices. Apparently Republican legislators think it’s suspicious that Democratic candidates won any votes at all. So they are launching a fusillade of bills to make it harder to vote.

Michael Hardy of The Texas Monthly reports:

For decades, Texas has maintained one of the worst voter-turnout rates in the country. Less than 61 percent of eligible Texans voted in the 2020 presidential election, placing us forty-third out of fifty states. (In Minnesota, the highest-turnout state, nearly 80 percent of eligible voters participated.) In November, 42.5 percent of eligible Texans cast ballots in the midterm election, placing us thirty-ninth in the nation. Embarrassed by these dismal figures, Texas political leaders will spend the Eighty-eighth Legislature passing laws to encourage more participation in the democratic process.

Just kidding! Instead of removing obstacles to voting, Republican legislators are introducing a slew of new bills that could disrupt elections and further depress turnout. GOP lawmakers say the bills are designed to prevent fraud and ensure election integrity. But several of the proposals—such as a bill by Republican representative Bryan Slaton, of Royse City, that would shorten the early-voting period from two weeks to one week—have no obvious rationale other than to make voting less convenient. (Slaton did not respond to an interview request.) Indeed, this and many other bills seem to proceed from the assumption that too many Texans are taking advantage of their constitutional right to select their leaders. Narrowing the franchise has long been a national Republican priority, although politicians are seldom as explicit as former president Donald Trump, who warned that 2020 voting reforms proposed by congressional Democrats would lead to “levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump’s concern was probably unfounded. There’s no consensus among political scientists on whether higher turnout benefits one party over another. Indeed, rising turnout in recent Texas elections has simply led to more Republican victories. The Texas GOP, it would appear, has little to fear from more election participation. But that doesn’t seem to have dampened the party’s enthusiasm for making it harder to vote. On the contrary: fueled by Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, Texas Republicans have become obsessed with the specter of voter fraud. Attorney General Ken Paxton has spent at least $2.2 million on an Ahab-like quest to find incidents of voter fraud. Between January 2020 and September 2022, he opened nearly four hundred investigations into potential election crimes yet secured only five election-related convictions.

In 2021, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, a far-reaching “election integrity and security” package, into law. The measure prohibited 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, pandemic-inspired innovations in Harris County that drove up turnout in 2020. It also imposed confusing new vote-by-mail requirements, including forcing each voter to write the ID number with which they registered to vote—either their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number—on the ballot. (If they forgot which ID they used to register and picked the wrong one, they were out of luck.) Failure to meet the new requirements led to an unprecedented 12 percent of mail-in ballots being rejected in last year’s primary. (The rejection rate fell for the general election, as Texas voters learned to include both their driver’s license and Social Security numbers.) The bill, Abbott proclaimed in 2021, would “make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.” The same year, Texas secretary of state John Scott launched a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election in four large Texas counties. The audit, which wrapped up in December 2022, found significant administrative dysfunction in Harris County, but no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Scott, who resigned in December after a little more than a year on the job, has urged “Stop the Steal” activists to accept President Biden’s victory in 2020, blaming their concerns on “a lack of information.”

But as noted philosopher Donald Rumsfeld liked to say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just as Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was an article of faith in the Bush White House, the existence of widespread election fraud has become an article of faith for many in the Texas GOP. To cite just one example, Republican representative Steve Toth, of the Woodlands, author of a bill requiring unique electronic codes for absentee ballots, has accused Democrats of using paper ballots to commit voter fraud and defended MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s crusade to prove that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. At its summer convention, the Texas GOP adopted a platform calling President Joe Biden’s victory illegitimate and urging politicians to focus on “election integrity.” To this end, Republican lawmakers have filed more than a dozen bills designed to root out supposed electoral chicanery. To be sure, Democrats have filed plenty of their own election bills, most of them intended to encourage voter registration and make it easier to cast a ballot. But with Republicans controlling the House, Senate, and Governor’s Mansion, there is little chance of the Democratic bills becoming law. Nor will every Republican-authored bill ultimately pass.

With those caveats out of the way, here’s a preview of the major voting bills filed so far in the Eighty-eighth Legislature.

HB 52 & HB 1243 / SB 166

Authors: Representatives David Spiller (R-Jacksboro) and Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant) / Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)

Purpose: Increases penalty for voter fraud from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony.

Background: In 2021, Governor Abbott signed SB 1, the controversial voting bill that Democrats attempted to block by fleeing to Washington, D.C. The bill eventually passed, but not before a conference committee added a provision lowering the offense of voting illegally from a second-degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor. Less than a month later, after receiving blowback from fellow Republicans, Abbott called on lawmakers to make voter fraud a felony again. These bills answer his call. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail, while a second-degree felony is punishable by up to twenty years in prison.

HB 125

Author: Representative Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City)

Purpose: Requires district attorneys, under penalty of removal from office, to enforce state election laws.

Background: Republicans have accused the Democratic district attorneys in large cities such as Dallas and Austin of failing to pursue election fraud with sufficient vigor. Attorney General Ken Paxton has sought to prosecute election cases himself, but in September, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that he must receive permission from local prosecutors to pursue such cases.

HB 161

Author: Representative Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands)

Purpose: Requires each absentee ballot to include a unique electronic code to verify its authenticity.

Background: For years, right-wing activists have claimed that voting by mail is uniquely vulnerable to election fraud. Former president Trump urged his supporters to vote in person, and he cast efforts to encourage voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way for Democrats to steal the election. This bill appears designed to prevent voters from photocopying absentee ballots—a phenomenon for which there is no evidence.

HB 549 / SB 220

Authors: Representative Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) / Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)

Purpose: Establishes a cadre of “election marshals”—law enforcement officers appointed by the Secretary of State to investigate election fraud. Calls for regional task forces of judges to adjudicate allegations of election fraud on and before Election Day.

Background: This bill is one of numerous GOP proposals in the current Legislature inspired by Florida governor Ron DeSantis. In this case, the new office of election marshal appears modeled after Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security, which has charged 20 Floridians (out of 11 million voters in 2020) with voting illegally since it was established last year. The Texas bill prohibits judges from overseeing election challenges in their own counties, apparently under the assumption that these judges would be biased against the candidates challenging the election.

Open the link and read about more bills that are supposedly necessary to protect “election integrity” but whose actual result will suppress the vote by confusing voters and making the process of voting more complicated than at present.