Archives for category: Privatization

In the Texas governor’s race between the vile Gregg Abbott and challenged Beto O’Rourke, the candidates are fighting for rural votes on the issue of vouchers. Rural Republicans have a strong allegiance to their public schools, which are often the heart of the community and its biggest employer. Many rural communities do not have any other schools.

Yet Governor Abbott has supinely sought the approval of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children.

The Texas Tribune summed up the conflict:

A battle over school vouchers is mounting in the race to be Texas governor, set into motion after Republican incumbent Greg Abbott offered his clearest support yet for the idea in May.

His Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, is hammering Abbott over the issue on the campaign trail, especially seeking an advantage in rural Texas, where Democrats badly know they need to do better and where vouchers split Republicans. O’Rourke’s campaign is also running newspaper ads in at least 17 markets, mostly rural, that urge voters to “reject Greg Abbott’s radical plan to defund” public schools.

Abbott, meanwhile, is not shying away from the controversy he ignited when he said in May that he supports giving parents “the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student.” He met privately last week with Corey DeAngelis, an aggressive national school choice activist who had previously criticized Abbott as insufficiently supportive of the cause.

“School choice” tends to refer to the broad concept of giving parents the option to send their kids to schools beyond their local public school, while vouchers would allow parents to use state tax dollars to subsidize tuition for those other options, including private schools. Opponents of vouchers say they harm public school systems by draining their funding. In the Legislature, vouchers have long encountered resistance from Democrats and rural Republicans whose public schools are the lifeblood of their communities.

O’Rourke is leaning into the bipartisan salience of the issue.

“For our rural communities, where there’s only one school district and only one option of public school, he wants to defund that through vouchers, take your tax dollars out of your classroom and send it to a private school in Dallas or Austin or somewhere else at your expense,” O’Rourke told a rural audience recently.

As usual, the voucher vultures are pushing the lie that money taken away from your public school will allow children to attend elite private schools.

It can’t be said often enough: voucher funds are never enough to pay for elite public funds. It is a lie. Voucher funding ranges from $4,000 to $8,000. The tuition at elite private schools ranges from $30,000 to $70,000.

Elite private schools don’t have vacancies. When they do, they don’t seek to enroll poor kids.

After 25 years of vouchers, the research is clear: kids who leave community public schools for voucher schools lose academic ground. Large numbers return to their public schools.

Meanwhile public schools are grievously harmed by the withdrawal of funding. They must lay off teachers and cut programs.

If the Devil designed a program to hurt the public schools, he would call it vouchers. And it would be funded by the American Federatuon for Chiildren.

At a meeting in Tampa recently, the organization of far-right agitators called “Moms for Liberty” took aim at public schools, teachers, and curriculum. They believe their children are indoctrinated in public schools, which is utter nonsense. What is clear is that they want to indoctrinate all children into their racist, bigoted worldview.

The so-called “Moms” are terrified by teaching about racism and gender. They want the power to censor books they don’t like. They want to stifle teachers who teach the truth about American history.

Their first national conference was addressed by Fovernor Ron DeSantis, Senator Rick Scott, and Betsy DeVos, all of whom are contemptuous of public schools.

Who are the Moms for Liberty? They are the female version of the John Birch Society. The latter spied Communists everywhere. The Moms are terrified that someone might teach children that racism was and is a blight on our country.

Known largely for speaking out against mask mandates in the pandemic, demanding access to school curricula, rooting out offensive or explicit content in literature and voicing their suspicions about the pervasiveness of “woke ideology” at school board meetings across the country, members of Moms For Liberty said they now hope to expand their political influence and the scope of parental rights laws, which exist in about one third of states.

Florida is led by a Republican governor and legislature determined to crush public schools. The state is overrun by unregulated voucher schools, where teachers and principals need no certification. Some of these openly discriminate and indoctrinate. The Orlando Sentinel ran a series about the voucher schools called “schools without rules.”

Florida has a thriving charter industry, many of them operated by for-profit corporations.

Now the state has passed a new law making it easier to open new charter schools and suck money out of the public schools.

As this rampant privatization continues, Governor DeSantis keeps up a barrage of attacks on public schools and their teachers, accusing them of “indoctrinating” their students with anti-racist views and “grooming” children to be transgender.

The Houston Chronicle reports that a participant in the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol is likely to be elected to the Texas State Board of Education. She has pledged to fight “critical race theory” (i.e. teaching about racism) and to support charter schools.

Underscoring Texas lawmakers’ rightward lurch on education issues in recent years, the candidate likely to replace a moderate Republican on the State Board of Education in a district outside Houston is a right-wing activist who participated in protests at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

After winning the primary in March, the front-runner in the District 7 race is Julie Pickren, a former trustee for Alvin Independent School District. Pickren was voted off that board last year after her participation in the protest at the U.S. Capitol was revealed — the basis of a campaign against her by the Brazoria County NAACP.

Pickren is a former delegate to the GOP’s national and state conventions, her LinkedIn says, and on Facebook she blamed antifa, rather than Trump supporters, for violence during the Capitol riot, a claim that other Republicans have made without proof. She declined a request for an interview….

Republicans have moved further to the right on education issues in Texas over the past 18 months. Earlier this summer, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his support for private school vouchers and endorsed a “Parental Bill of Rights” to give parents more power over what and how their kids are taught in schools. Last year, the Legislature passed and Abbott signed a slew of conservative bills relating to education, including restrictions on how social studies can be taught and on transgender children playing school sports.

At the local level, school board politics have become increasingly heated, with often angry discussions over diversity and equity policies in the schools. Parent groups have organized PACs in opposition to what they view as progressive activism in education, raising substantial amounts of money to reshape local school boards around the state.

Next year’s State Board of Education is set to be more conservative, with Robinson leaving as well as two other Republicans who lost their March primaries to opponents supported by right-wing PACs. There are currently nine Republicans and six Democrats serving on the board.

The board’s core responsibilities include writing Texas’ public school curriculums, managing the permanent fund that backs debt taken out by schools, and deciding whether to allow new charter schools in the state; Pickren has said she supports adding more of them.

Moderate pushed out

The District 7 seat opened up last year, when the Legislature during redistricting moved incumbent Matt Robinson into a different district so he couldn’t run for re-election. Robinson, a doctor from Friendswood, has said he feels Republican political leaders in the state did this intentionally because they did not believe he was sufficiently supportive of charter schools and other conservative policy goals.

In a rare move in today’s increasingly polarized politics, Robinson is endorsing the Democrat in the race, Galveston ISD teacher Dan Hochman, to be his successor.

Why?

“Because he’s running against Julie Pickren. And she will be bad for public education,” Robinson said.

In lists of the most important issues to her campaign, Pickren has named ridding public schools of critical race theory, an academic theory that critics use as a catchall term to describe diversity and equity initiatives as well as discussion of systemic or historical racism. Pickren is also supportive of “parents rights” initiatives such as those espoused by Abbott.

“She is leading a fight, an assault on public education that’s going on right now. It’s not among all Republicans, but it’s among a good number and she’s kind of leading that fight. And the idea that critical race theory is going on in most schools and most districts, which is entirely false. So her overall approach is, in my view, anti-public education,” Robinson said…

Soul of public education

Hochman acknowledged that he’s facing an uphill climb in the race, as the district leans conservative. Pickren’s campaign has spent about $40,000 so far, while Hochman’s has spent about $10,000. Hochman said his campaign bank account currently had less than $100 in it…

“It really, truly is a fight for the soul of public education in the state of Texas, which is failing right now,” Hochman said of the race. Hochman added that he would oppose expansion of charter schools.

“I’m up against a woman who is clearly anti-public education. She’s being funded by the far right, whose agenda has been publicly clear that they want to dismantle public education and replace it with private schools and charter schools so they can push through a far-right Christian agenda in schooling. And that’s not like a conspiracy, that’s been pretty much out in the open.”

edward.mckinley@chron.com

In case you missed it, asi did, CNN will rerun its special about the two billionaires who are trying to buy control of Texas—this Friday night.

Ed Lavandera, one of the producers, tweeted:

So many of you have asked how to re-watch #DeepInThePocketsofTexas on @CNN, the program will re-air this Friday night July 29th, 11pmET/10pmCT.

Hello, Democrats! Wake up!

Journalist Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider report that voters in school board elections are not falling for rightwing slanders of their public schools and teachers!

Democrats: your best strategy for the fall elections is to campaign aggressively for public schools.

Berkshire and Schneider write that Democrats were panicked by Glenn Youngkin’s election as Governor in Virginia, which they attributed to his attacks on “critical race theory” in the schools and his pandering to far-right fake parents’ groups. Steve Bannon (and Chris Rufo) claimed that the road to a takeover was by seizing control of local school boards and destroying public schools.

Berkshire and Schneider say that their campaign is failing. Even in Trump territory, voters are supporting their public schools and rejecting the crazies.

They write:

As it turns out, GOP candidates running on scorched-earth education platforms have fared quite poorly in school board elections. In places like Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire and New York, voters have rejected culture warriors running for school board, often doing so by wide margins. A recent Ballotpedia review of more than 400 school board contests in Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin found that race, gender and COVID were indeed influential in determining election outcomes, but not in the way one might expect. As they found, candidates who ran in opposition to a “conflict issue” — sexual education curricula, for instance, or a focus on race in the district — were more likely to lose their races.

Cherokee County, Ga., a rural county northwest of Atlanta, offers an instructive example. The county’s schools made national headlines recently after ProPublica reported on a group of white parents protesting the hiring of a Black educator brought on to serve as the first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer. Yet voters in the county, which Trump won by nearly 70 percent in 2020, overwhelmingly rejected hardline candidates for school board. A self-proclaimed family values slate, backed by the national 1776 Project PAC, and which ran in opposition to critical race theory and school district equity plans, failed to pick up a single seat.

Voters in Coweta County, Ga., sent a similar message to another slate of candidates endorsed by the 1776 Project. All four challengers were bested by board incumbents in the May primary, while a fifth — a controversial incumbent who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and claimed that students were being indoctrinated with critical race theory through district-provided Chromebooks — was unseated by a landslide in a runoff election in June.

It isn’t that these deep red countries have suddenly begun to turn blue. Instead, the culture war approach is falling short because Americans have direct experiences that contradict what they’re hearing from candidates.

Please open the link and read the good news for yourself.

CNN posted an important article about two billionaires in Texas who are spending heavily to push state politics to the extreme right fringes on social issues. Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks despise gays, love guns, and preach a version of Christianity that is suffused with hate, not love or charity or kindness. Above all, they aim to destroy public education, which they see as the root of America’s cultural decline.

If you read one article today, make it this one. It explains the drive for vouchers for religious schools. What Dunn and Wilks want is not “choice,” but indoctrination into their selfish, bumigored world view.

CNN’s investigative team writes:

Gun owners allowed to carry handguns without permits or training. Parents of transgender children facing investigation by state officials. Women forced to drive hours out-of-state to access abortion.

This is Texas now: While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview…

Critics, and even some former associates, say that Dunn and Wilks demand loyalty from the candidates they back, punishing even deeply conservative legislators who cross them by bankrolling primary challengers. Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow.

“It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” Seliger said. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it…”

Former associates of Dunn and Wilks who spoke to CNN said the billionaires are both especially focused on education issues, and their ultimate goal is to replace public education with private, Christian schooling. Wilks is a pastor at the church his father founded, and Dunn preaches at the church his family attends. In their sermons, they paint a picture of a nation under siege from liberal ideas…

Dunn and Wilks have been less successful in the 2022 primary elections than in past years: Almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee primarily funded by the duo, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Gov. Greg Abbott who lost by a wide margin.

But experts say the billionaires’ recent struggles are in part a symptom of their past success: Many of the candidates they’re challenging from the right, from Abbott down, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues from transgender rights to guns to voting.

“They dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing,” said Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper who’s covered 18 sessions of the Texas legislature…

People who’ve worked with Wilks and Dunn say they share an ultimate goal: replacing much of public education in Texas with private Christian schools. Now, educators and students are feeling the impact of that conservative ideology on the state’s school system.

Dorothy Burton, a former GOP activist and religious scholar, joined Farris Wilks on a 2015 Christian speaking tour organized by his brother-in-law and said she spoke at events he attended. She described the fracking magnate as “very quiet” but approachable: “You would look at him and you would never think that he was a billionaire,” she said.

But Burton said that after a year of hearing Wilks’ ideology on the speaking circuit, she became disillusioned by the single-mindedness of his conservatism.

“The goal is to tear up, tear down public education to nothing and rebuild it,” she said of Wilks. “And rebuild it the way God intended education to be.”

In sermons, Dunn and Wilks have advocated for religious influence in schooling. “When the Bible plainly teaches one thing and our culture teaches another, what do our children need to know what to do?” Wilks asks in one sermon from 2013.

Dunn, Wilks and the groups and politicians they both fund have been raising alarms about liberal ideas in the classroom, targeting teachers and school administrators they see as too progressive. The billionaires have especially focused on critical race theory, in what critics see as an attempt to use it as a scapegoat to break voters’ trust in public schooling.

In the summer of 2020, James Whitfield, the first Black principal of the mostly White Colleyville Heritage High School in the Dallas suburbs, penned a heartfelt, early-morning email in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, encouraging his school to “not grow weary in the battle against systemic racism.”

The backlash came months later. Stetson Clark, a former school board candidate whose campaign had been backed by a group that received its largest donations from Dunn and organizations he funded, accused Whitfield during a school board meeting last year of “encouraging all members of our community to become revolutionaries” and “encouraging the destruction and disruption of our district.” The board placed Whitfield on leave, and later voted not to renew his contract. He agreed to resign after coming to a settlement with the district. Clark did not respond to a request for comment.

Whitfield said he saw the rhetoric pushed by Dunn and Wilks as a major cause of his being pushed out.

“They want to disrupt and destroy public schools, because they would much rather have schools that are faith-based,” Whitfield said. “We know what has happened over the course of history in our country, and if we can’t teach that, then what do you want me to do?”

Meanwhile, the legislature has also been taking on the discussion of race in classrooms, passing a bill last year that bans schools from making teachers “discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” The legislation was designed to keep critical race theory out of the classroom, according to Abbott, who signed the bill into law.

Some of the co-authors and sponsors of the bill and previous versions of the legislation received significant funding from Dunn and Wilks.

The billionaires “want to destroy the public school system as we know it and, in its place, see more home-schooling and more private Christian schools,” said Deuell, the former senator.

By the power of their money, these two billionaires are reshaping public policy in Texas to make it as narrow-minded and bigoted as they are. Their reactionary vision will indoctrinate students and crush the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn.

If you live in Texas, vote for Beto O’Rourke for Governor, Mike Collier for Lt. Governor, and for legislators who support public schools.

Michael Tomasky, the editor of The New Republic, summarizes the war against public education and why it is so crucial to our society. Yes, everyone must support public schools, whether or not they have children. Everyone must pay to educate all children. Because doing so is for the good of society!

Tomasky is a public school parent. He read the article about the effort by Free Staters to defund the public schools in Croydon, New Hampshire, and he was appalled. Supporting the public schools for all children is

so obviously essential to civilized life that it’s shocking we even have to defend it. But alas, because the American right wing is so bananas these days, defend it we must.

The Free Staters in New Hampshire want to live without any government. They want to live without a state. They already fired the town’s line police officer. Then they went for the town’s public school budget, proposing to cut its budget in half.

I’ve actually been wondering for many years when the right was going to get around to this line of attack. As matters stand in the United States of America, and as far as I know more or less everywhere in the developed world, education is paid for by the state—either mostly by local governments (the United States), or the national government (France). This web page gives a good summary of how public education is funded around the globe. It’s a fairly recent consensus in historical terms—only in the last half of the twentieth century have countries like Brazil, India, and Colombia come to accept that they have to pay the freight for universal education. But accept it they have. As a result, educational inequality around the world has decreased dramatically.

In the U.S., of course, public education is mostly funded by property taxes and financed by local governments. There are problems with this, as there are with any system invented by imperfect human beings, the main one being that rich districts have a lot more money and thus much better schools; but even still, the good part is that we as a society accept the idea that we all have to contribute. It does not matterwhether you have children in the schools. The principle is that even if you are childless, or your children have grown and gone to college, or you send them to private school, or school them yourself at home, you still pay, and you pay because you benefit from a well-educated populace.

I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, home to great schools and high taxes. My daughter happens to go to a public school that is excellent (and happily just up the street). But even if I had no daughter, or sent her to a private school, I would still agree that it was my responsibility to pay for the great public schools my county offers children. It makes for a better county, a better class of citizen, a better nation.

This is a core principle of civilized society: We all contribute to certain activities that have clear universal social benefit. To use Underwood’s sick terminology, that guy pays for that guy’s child to be educated because the first guy benefits when the second guy’s kid is learning math and science and pondering Hamlet’s soliloquy and being prepared for responsible, productive adulthood. Anyone who can’t see that connection is a selfish prick. And if nothing else, even selfish pricks ought to be able to see that good schools increase the value of their homes.The question of political philosophy is this: What is the common good—what must it include, and what is each citizen’s responsibility toward securing it? We decided in the U.S. a little more than a century ago that universal public education, free to every child and paid for by all of us, was central to any definition of a common good. The world, as I noted above, has largely come to agree.

An educated populace serves all of us. Debates about curricula are another issue, and those debates are legitimate, as long as people aren’t lying (my daughter, who just finished sixth grade in a quite liberal school district, reports that yes, she’s learned all about Rosa Parks and so on, but no teacher has ever tried to make her feel guilty about being white).

But even both sides in that debate accept that the public schools are a common good; they just disagree about what should be taught.

More broadly, conservatives have been trying to undermine public education for 70 years now. This goes back to Brown v. Board of Education, in whose wake many Southern school districts set up all-white segregation academies or in some cases stopped collecting the local taxes that supported public schools (it took a Supreme Court decision in 1968, a full 14 years after Brown,to end the most egregious forms of that racist mischief).

Then, starting in earnest in the 1980s, under Reagan-era education secretary and insufferable moral crusader Bill “Snake Eyes”Bennett, the right promoted school vouchers and charter schools, both of which, numerous studies have found, have simply not been the panacea the right advertised them to be. Right-wing rich people and foundations have spent God knows how many millions since then promoting these private educational alternatives. That’s their right, of course. But imagine if they’d spent those millions trying to shore up public schools in poor districts, or financing early reading programs for poor children from Harlem to eastern Kentucky to the reservations of Arizona. The country would be so much better off.

The Free Staters failed in Croydon. The small population mobilized to save their schools.

I expect the coming years will see the mainstreaming of the argument that people who aren’t parents of public-school children shouldn’t have to pay for schools. Liberals must fight back tooth and nail, and not on some statistical point cooked up by some timid pollster, but at the very philosophical root of the argument. We cannot retreat from a century-old consensus that has done the nation enormous good.

  @mtomasky

Michael Tomasky is the editor of The New Republic.

The Supreme Court’s Holy War Against Public Schools

Katherine Stewart

How Leonard Leo Became the Grey Cardinal of the American Right

In Virginia, an evangelical church announced plans to open a new school. They claim that demand for private Christian education has soared due to controversies over critical race theory (i.e., teaching anything about racism, past or present) and masking during the pandemic (they refused to protect their children’s health). Will the new school indoctrinate children to be racist? To hate gays? To look down on other religions? One thing you can be sure of: it will seek government money for its tuition.

MIDDLEBURG, Virginia – Nestled in the rolling hills of northern Virginia sits a sprawling tree-lined campus. Classrooms inside this shuttered private school sit empty. Once-busy halls are eerily silent. Each room looks like a time capsule of better days. But not for long.

“After much prayer and discussion with our elders, and pastoral leadership, we will be launching Cornerstone Christian Academy,” said Senior Pastor Gary Hamrick.

Hamrick got a standing ovation after making that announcement during recent Sunday services at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg.

The campus is about 20 miles from Cornerstone Chapel the church that will open the school in the fall of ’23.

Initially, there will be enough space for 500 elementary and middle school students. “They have classrooms, desks, there’s a gym, cafeteria, down the hall. We’re going to repurpose it for the Lord,” said Hamrick.

On Today’s Quick Start Podcast: How Red Flag Laws Failed, Marvel Actors Sound Off on LGBT Message in Thor

There are also plans to expand to high school and online learning.

“Our goal is to provide children an education where they have a biblical worldview. So they can go out into the world and be salt and light,” he said.

Dr. Charles Foster Johnson is hosting a conversation with Beto O’Rourke in Lubbock, Texas, on Zoom this Thursday.

4:30-6:00 pm CDT (central time).

They will discuss the future of public education in Texas.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-conversation-about-public-education-with-beto-orourke-tickets-384095880117

The event is free.