Archives for category: Propaganda

I am going to do something unusual with this topic, the topic being Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ bold and disgusting effort to take control of what may and may not be taught in the schools of Florida.

I wrote this post. It will be followed by one written by Mercedes Schneider. We don’t disagree, but we provide different content. Read them both and add your thoughts.

In Florida, a “controversial topic” is any concept that governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t like. This is what he calls “freedom.” Schools are not free to teach anything he dislikes. Last week, the Florida Department of Education told districts to provide detailed information about the books and materials they were using to teach topics that offend DeSantis.

To readers, I apologize for writing so much about this tinpot dictator. But the reality is that he is leading the way towards purging the schools of content that would be standard fare in many other states, and other red states are following his lead.

The Miami-Herald reports:

The Florida Department of Education this week told school districts to produce detailed information about the programs and materials they use to address some of the state’s most hotly debated subjects.

In an email delivered late Tuesday, the department instructed superintendents to fill out a 34-question survey identifying titles of books and programs they have relating to sex education, social-emotional learning, culturally relevant teaching and diversity, and equity and inclusion, among other topics. It asked for specifics for student courses and employee training. The department requested names and examples from district and charter schools. And it gave the districts until Monday to respond. “It sounds very much like what they have done to the state university system,” said Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning.

In recent months, the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked universities and colleges to provide information about their work in diversity, equity and inclusion, and related to gender-affirming care.

DeSantis followed those requests with speeches criticizing many of the concepts and calling on the Legislature to end spending for such items. College presidents quickly announced they would end diversity programs. Legislation mirroring the governor’s agenda soon followed.

“What concerns me about the questions is they are all the hot-button topics and issues that are in the news,” Browning said, noting that the department did not explain its request. “What is it that they’re looking for?”

The department did not respond to calls and emails seeking added information. Superintendents across Florida said their staffs are working to submit all the items, which include uploaded examples in addition to lists of titles and data about the percentages of schools that use the materials and programs.

A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Public Schools said Friday “district staff is currently in the process of compiling responses to the survey.” The Broward school district did not immediately respond to the Herald’s query. I

“We’ve never had to get this in-depth before,” said Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt, president of the state superintendents association. He suggested that politically involved parent and community groups such as Moms for Liberty have played a part in the rising demand for specifics about what books, curriculum and other materials the schools use. Moms for Liberty chapters across Florida have pressed school districts to remove books they claim contain pornography or other materials harmful to minors. The organization’s co-founders recently sat with DeSantis and other Republican officials to identify 14 sitting school board members statewide to target for removal in the 2024 elections, including Miami-Dade School Board member Luisa Santos.

“Politics has always been like this,” said Husfelt, who has led his North Florida district for 15 years. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen public education as involved as it is right now.”

Browning said he found it frustrating that the state appears to be targeting approaches such as positive behavior interventions and trauma-informed care, while at the same time requiring schools to address students’ mental health needs. “It seems like they are saying, ‘Do it, but you can’t use this and you can’t use that,’ ” he said.

“My question would be, ‘What is it you want me to use?’ There is nothing inherently evil in any of this stuff, in any of these topics that they are wanting information on.”

The state previously has made clear its disdain for social-emotional learning and culturally relevant teaching, banning it from math and social studies textbooks as they come up for adoption. It also has restricted lessons about human growth and development, which includes sex education.

Social-emotional learning is a strategy that aims to help students manage their emotions and develop empathy, among other traits. The state promoted it as a way to keep students safe after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Culturally relevant teaching attempts to present lessons in ways that better resonate with students of color. It was developed with the recognition that the teaching force in public schools is predominantly white while the majority of students are from other groups. In Florida, 57% of public school students are Black or Hispanic.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said Floridians should recognize that the state’s efforts to remove such concepts from schools is “messing with kids.”

“Kids learn best when they feel safe, when they feel secure, when they have a connection to their teacher,” Spar said. “When you hear the governor talking about how we shouldn’t do [social-emotional learning] or culturally responsive teaching, what we’re saying is, we shouldn’t teach kids the way they learn.”

While many of the state’s survey questions relate to approaches that DeSantis and others have reviled, others focus on models that they have applauded. For instance, the survey asks about the use of the “whole child approach,” which has been embraced by classical education schools such as those supported by Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Browning expected the survey would be a precursor to legislation. “Isn’t everything?” he said.

Read more at:

Lisa Graves and Alyssa Bowen recently reviewed the tax returns of some well-known “parent” groups and discovered what we suspected to be true. They are funded by Dark Money, specifically by billionaire Charles Koch, who longs to eliminate public education.

They write in Truthout:

Right-wing operatives are increasing their attacks on U.S. public education with an expanding number of legal complaints to censor books and target teachers on an array of issues —preventing them from teaching U.S. history accurately, treating LGBTQ+ students with the respect they deserve, and forming support groups for kids and teachers of color. These attacks will likely continue to escalate through 2024 as wedge issues intended to feed the right-wing voting base and lay the groundwork for redirecting funds from public schools to private recipients.

One of the main players in these attacks is Parents Defending Education (PDE), a dark money nonprofit group launched in 2021 in the midst of the Virginia state election cycle. Over the past two years, PDE has become a central actor in the right-wing assault on public schools across the nation. The group has trained local agitators to grab media attention, sued school districts for supposed anti-white discrimination, and railed against the teaching of social emotional learning, accurate U.S. history, and even ethnic studiesin schools.

Lawyers affiliated with PDE filed at least four complaints in January with the U.S. Department of Education claiming affinity groups for kids or teachers are illegal. These are just a few of the many complaints the group has filed over the past two years.

As dark money in education expert Maurice Cunningham has written, PDE’s “real goal” in filing lawsuits and complaints appears to be to “create media attention and promote chaos and disruption.” Then groups like PDE can claim the solution to the chaos is increased right-wing “parental supervision” over school boards. That supervision appears to involve a minority of vocal, politically motivated parents dictating what other people’s kids are taught or what they can read, based on whether such lessons or books are consistent with their right-wing religious beliefs and political opinions.

Illustration of Leonard Leo and a rain of judge's gavels

Groups Connected With Leonard Leo Have Funneled $31 Million to State Court Races

PDE’s speakers are often portrayed in the media as simply “concerned parents,” despite the group’s ties to the network of oil billionaire Charles Koch, far right politicians and school privatization efforts. Due to the timetables for the filing of nonprofit IRS forms, the amount PDE had raised to mount these attacks was unknown — until now.

PDE’s 2021 990 nonprofit IRS form shows that the group raised more than $3.1 million in its first year, even though many genuinely local grassroots efforts take years to raise that much money. That form does not reveal how much money PDE raised in 2022, during the congressional midterm elections; the amount it received to fuel its operations last year is likely even higher than 2021. The $3.1 million disclosed for 2021 also does not include any money raised that year by PDE Action, its (c)(4) advocacy arm.

Please open the link and keep reading this deep dive into astroturf parent groups funded by the far right billionaires.

Jacob Goodwin is a sixth-grade teacher in New Hampshire, where the State Commissioner (who home-schooled his own children) is pushing a vastly expanded voucher plan. Parents should be aware that federal anti-discrimination statutes do not apply to private and religious schools. You may think you are exercising your “choice,” but it’s the school that chooses its students.

Goodwin writes in The Progressive:

A new lawsuit is challenging the voucher scheme of Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire’s commissioner of education. Edelblut, formerly an accountant, lacks meaningful experience in the field of education outside his politically appointed post. He is being sued by the American Federation of Teachers for allegedly misusing funds that were meant solely for public schools in the state.

The statutory requirement for the disbursement of public money prohibits all other financial transactions, which the plaintiffs argue extends to providing public money to private and religious schools—something that the voucher law has done.

The current voucher expenditures have ballooned to over $20 million, despite the commissioner having promised that the cost of the program would be nearly one-tenth the current taxpayer obligation. Funneling dollars to the voucher program is detrimental to public schools and the students they serve.

This diversion of public money away from public schools came at a time when schools in New Hampshire—and across the country—were having difficulty retaining staff, especially support staff who work with children with special needs. While there are education support professionals making less than $15 per hour, the commissioner has spent lavishly on schools that are not even required to fulfill Individualized Education Plans, which are designed to meet students’ special needs and backed by Federal law. In other words, the ill-devised voucher scheme both makes it more difficult for public districts to fill the positions to help students currently qualifying for legally mandated services and gives that money away to places that can ignore documented disabilities…

Students deserve our support, and vouchers aimed at helping the well-to-do at the cost of providing support to the most vulnerable is simply unjustifiable. This includes regressive voucher laws that send public money to schools with no public accountability and with no requirement to aid special needs students. Still, states like New Hampshire are considering expanding such programs, effectively defunding established and regulated professional public services for special education. The thought of this is a travesty. The impact: a devastating blow to disability rights.

David DeMatthews of the University of Texas and David S. Knight of the University of Washington wrote this article, which appeared in The Hill, a D.C. site. It’s by now well-established that students who take vouchers suffer academically; that vouchers will sudsidize the students already enrolled in private and religious schools; and that states will pay huge sums to underwrite affluent families. The Texas Observer, for example, estimated that if the 309,000 students currently in private schools get vouchers, the state’s public schools will lose $3 billion in the first year alone. What is more, voucher schools are free to discriminate on any basis, and they are exempt from any accountability.

They write:

School vouchers are a taxpayer swindle that fails to raise achievement while eroding public schools and the principle of equal protection under the law outlined in the U.S. Constitution. If more states adopt school voucher systems, most parents will find their top choice — a neighborhood public school — largely defunded and unable to recruit and retain high-quality teachers due to a transfer of funds into unregulated private schools.

Americans from all backgrounds have fought to gain access to public schools, including freed slaves, immigrants and people with disabilities. These struggles have led to a free universal public education system that propels each child into our democracy, communities and economy. Public schools also serve as community hubs where neighborhoods gather to vote, watch sports, participate in townhalls, among many other public events.

Vouchers jeopardize all of this because they transfer money from public schools to individual parents through grants, savings accounts or scholarships to pay private school tuition. It is a system where self-interest replaces the common good, culminating in separate education systems for children living on the same street in the same community.

Voucher supporters say parents know what is best for their children, but that is not necessarily the case. As education researchers, we know that voucher systems have led to significant declines in student achievement for voucher users in Louisiana, Indiana, New York City and Washington, D.C., especially for low-income students. In a study on the effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program — a large voucher program established in 2008 and expanded in 2012 — researchers found that students participating in the voucher program were significantly behind their peers in reading and mathematics after four years.

There should also be concern that despite these well-documented failures, billionaires such as Betsy DeVos of Michigan and Charles Koch of Kansas use their fortunes to reportedly subvert state elections from thousands of miles away. This is not about parent choice or student achievement. It is political. null

Sadly, some state policymakers adopt equally hypocritical policy positions as they support vouchers. For example, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has become a vocal voucher supporter, yet he’s also a supporter of high-stakes accountability. Texas battled in court for years to take control of the Houston Independent School District due to low performance. So, on one hand, the state is supporting accountability for public school performance, and on the other hand, there is support for vouchers — a policy where taxpayer dollars are transferred to private schools that do not follow state accountability standards and where the state has virtually no oversight.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is also a voucher supporter. In 2022, DeSantis signed legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that banned classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity — yet, his state’s voucher program has no oversight over private school curricula. This means a private school receiving taxpayer dollars can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity without any legal recourse from the state.

In Arizona, former Gov. Doug Ducey (R) supported voucher legislation based on his belief that it would “offer all families the option to choose the school setting that works best for them.” Nevertheless, Arizona’s voucher system has been overwhelmingly used by wealthy families that were already sending their children to private schools before voucher legislation. Few low-income families could afford private school tuition and transportation with the voucher — a predictable policy shortcoming.

To make matters worse, current and pending voucher legislation could even reportedly fund racist curricula. Recently, a Nazi homeschooling group in Ohio stated they were creating “Nazi-approved homeschool material.” Under Ohio state law and many current and proposed voucher laws, states would be left powerless to intervene if a private school adopted such a curriculum.

Vouchers just do not make sense, and we should recognize that vouchers offer a false choice. What parent wants the choice to defund public education while transferring taxpayer money to unaccountable private schools that do not improve student achievement but can deny admission, discriminate against children and develop ineffective or harmful curriculum without any recourse?

David DeMatthews is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin.

David S. Knight is an associate professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington.

Mimi Swartz, a writer for the Texas Monthly, explored the background, the funders, and the consequences of the well-coordinated campaign to privatize public schools—by defaming them and discrediting those who run for local school board seats. She focuses on the travails of one dedicated school board member, Joanna Day in Dripping Springs, Texas, who contended with insults and threats in her life.

The following is a small part of a long article, which I encourage you to read in full:

The motivations for these attacks are myriad and sometimes opaque, but many opponents of public education share a common goal: privatizing public schools, in the same way activists have pushed, with varying results, for privatization of public utilities and the prison system. Proponents of school privatization now speak of public schools as “dropout factories” and insist that “school choice” should be available to all. They profess a deep faith in vouchers, which would allow parents to send their children not just to the public schools of their choice but to religious and other private schools, at taxpayers’ expense.

But if privatizing public education is today cloaked in talk of expanded liberty, entrepreneurial competition, and improved schools for those who need them most, its history tells a different story. In 1956, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, a group of segregationist legislators in Texas, with support from retiring governor Allan Shivers, began concocting work-arounds for parents appalled by the prospect of racial integration of public schools. One idea: state-subsidized tuition at private schools. That never came to pass, but it was Texas’s first flirtation with vouchers.

Privatization proponents have since switched up their rhetoric, pitching vouchers as an opportunity for poor urban families to save their children from underperforming neighborhood schools. That hasn’t worked out either. In various experiments across the nation, funding for vouchers hasn’t come close to covering tuition costs at high-quality private schools, and many kids, deprived of the most basic tools, haven’t been able to meet the standards for admission.

School funding in Texas is based largely on attendance—as the saying goes, the money follows the child. Considerable evidence suggests that vouchers would siphon money from underfunded public schools and subsidize well-to-do parents who can already afford private tuition. Critics frequently cite a program in Milwaukee, where four out of ten private schools created for voucher students from 1991 to 2015 failed.

“I don’t think that vouchers serve any useful purpose at all,” said Scott McClelland, a retired president of H-E-B who now chairs Good Reason Houston, an education nonprofit. Ninety-one percent of Texas students attend public schools. “There isn’t enough capacity in the private school network to make a meaningful difference in their ability to serve economically disadvantaged students in any meaningful numbers, and it will divert funding away from public schools.”

In Texas, an unusual alliance of Democratic and rural Republican leaders has for decades held firm against voucher campaigns. The latter, of course, are all too aware that private schools aren’t available for most in their communities and that public schools employ many of their constituents. But the spread of far-right politics and the disruption of public schools during the pandemic created an opening for activists to sow discontent and, worse, chaos. “If they can make the public afraid of their public school, they will be more likely to support privatizing initiatives. Then that puts us back to where we used to be with segregation of public schools,” says former Granbury school board member Chris Tackett, who, with his wife Mendi, has become an outspoken advocate for public education and a relentless investigator of the attempts to undermine it.

They have their work cut out for them. In the past, just a few right-wing legislators pushed for privatization and were routinely ignored. After all, the state constitution spelled out “the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” But as times have changed, so has the interpretation of that guarantee.

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s former Education Secretary, set up shop in Dallas with her American Federation for Children to push against “government schools” in favor of “school choice.” Political PACs such as Patriot Mobile Action, an arm of a Christian wireless provider in North Texas, continue pouring millions into school board races and book bans to promote more religious education. Patriot has joined other recently formed PACs with inspirational names such as Defend Texas Liberty and Texans for Excellent Education, all of which supposedly support better public schools but are actually part of the privatization push. But by far the most powerful opponents of public schools in the state are West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and the brothers Farris and Dan Wilks. Their vast political donations have made them the de facto owners of many Republican members of the Texas Legislature through organizations such as the now dissolved Empower Texans and the more recent Defend Texas Liberty, which the trio uses to promote restrictions on reproductive rights, voter access, and same-sex marriage. Almost as influential is the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where Dunn is vice board chair.

A November 2021 TPPF fund-raising letter, sent to supporters in advance of the Eighty-eighth Legislature convening, argued that “public education is GROUND ZERO” in the fight for freedom. “The policy team and board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) believe it is now or never,” it read, signaling that the long-standing and robust alliance against vouchers was unusually vulnerable. “The time is ripe to set Texas children free from enforced indoctrination and Big Government cronyism in our public schools.” The letter went on to herald a $1.2 million “Set the Captives Free” campaign to lobby legislators to save Texas schoolchildren from “Marxist and sexual indoctrination” funded by “far-Left elites for decades.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, generously backed by Dunn, the Wilks brothers, and their organizations, has long been a proponent of privatizing public education (and of starving it through reductions in property taxes). He has made vouchers a primary legislative goal of the current session. Mayes Middleton, of Wallisville, a Republican state senator and former chair of the TPPF-aligned Texas House Freedom Caucus, filed a bill to create the “Texas Parental Empowerment Program,” proposing education savings accounts that are essentially a form of vouchers. Representative Matt Shaheen, of Plano, who is a member of the Texas Freedom Caucus, has introduced a measure that would guarantee state tax credits for those who donate to school-assistance programs—such as scholarships for kids wishing to go to private schools.

Governor Greg Abbott, knowing all too well the political headwinds that vouchers have faced, has long been wary of publicly supporting them, so he has undermined public schools in other ways. While campaigning early last year, he promised to amend the Texas constitution with a “parental bill of rights,” even though most, if not all, of those rights already existed. By then, “parental rights” had become a dog whistle to animate opponents of public education. (As the Texas Tribune put it: “Gov. Greg Abbott taps into parent anger to fuel reelection campaign.”)

During the recent intensifying crisis on the border, Abbott publicly floated a challenge to the state’s constitutional obligation to give all Texas children, including undocumented ones, a publicly funded education—a step his Republican predecessor, Rick Perry, had denounced years earlier as heartless. Then last spring, Abbott made headlines with his first full-throated public endorsement of a voucher program.

So here we are, with distrust in public schools advancing as fast as the latest COVID-19 variant. The forces behind the spread of this vitriol are no mystery. Those who would destroy public schools have learned to apply three simple stratagems: destabilize, divide, and, if that doesn’t work, open the floodgates of fear

Time and again, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has exceeded his authority by one-man stunts, created to win national publicity and demonstrate that he’s more fascist than Trump.

Now, his puppet legislature is meeting in special session to clean up the mess DeSantis left behind.

The Miami Herald editorial board excoriates his authoritarian control of weak-kneed legislators.

With Gov. DeSantis’ iron-fisted control of the legislative process in Florida, it’s not elected officials who must conform to the limits of the law; it’s the law that gets modified according to the whims of elected officials.

If you pass a half-baked bill in vengeful haste, someone will clean up your mess. When you get sued for allegedly violating your own migrant-relocation program, no worries, your friends in the Legislature will expand that program and give you ample power — and cash — to make it “right.” When you tout illegal voting arrests of people who the state allowed to vote, and it turns out you might have chosen the wrong prosecutors to bring those charges, you simply change the law.

That’s the story of the special legislative session that began this week in the Florida Capitol. The urgent matter the Republican-controlled Legislature must address is cleaning up the governor’s most controversial policies. Lawmakers couldn’t even wait another month until their regular two-month session that starts in March.

To be fair, there are other valid issues being discussed: providing relief for Hurricane Ian victims and expanding a law that allows college athletes to sign endorsement deals. But this is no ordinary special session. The bulk of it is about giving DeSantis more — and unchecked — power.

Take the law that tried to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District in Central Florida last year. Created in the 1960s, the special taxing district is controlled by Disney and serves as the governing body for the Walt Disney World Resort. Was it time to revisit this unusual arrangement that ceded so much power to a private company (the district can even build its own nuclear power plant)? Maybe, but good governance wasn’t really top of mind. The Legislature, egged on by DeSantis, was retaliating against Disney for opposing the parental-rights law critics nicknamed “Don’t say gay.”

When lawmakers passed a bill to dissolve Reedy Creek last year, they didn’t hash out what to do with Disney’s $1 billion debt that, without the company’s ability to tax itself, would fall on the residents of Orange and Osceola counties.

There’s no mea culpa on the part of Republicans, though they did give themselves until June 1 to make changes to the law. They now want to maintain the district under a different name, take away Disney’s power to control it and give it to our almighty governor, who would nominate the five people who make up the district’s board. We suppose there’s one silver lining: The board would lose the authority to build a nuclear plant.

House Bill 5B and Senate Bill 6B are another gift to the governor from lawmakers. The state is defending a lawsuit filed by a Democratic state senator challenging the taxpayer-funded flights of mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Those migrants were duped into believing they would find jobs and resources on the island.

The lawsuit centers on a key component of the relocation program lawmakers funded last year at DeSantis’ urging: that it relocate migrants from Florida, not other states.

Republicans want to get rid of that fine print and give DeSantis the unchecked authority to relocate migrants from anywhere in the country as long as they have been released by the federal government pending the resolution of their case. He also would get $10 million and the possibility to access $500 million in emergency funds because he signed an executive order declaring an immigration emergency in January, the Herald reported.

This gives DeSantis the ability to tap into millions of dollars to target any voter-rich Republican primary state in his expected presidential run, courtesy of taxpayers. The premise of the program is that the border crisis presents a threat to Floridians, but whether or not those migrants would ever make it to the Sunshine State is inconsequential at this point.

The other legislative clean-up relates to the state’s new election-crimes office, created by the Legislature after Donald Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election became a major plank in the Republican Party platform. Last year, DeSantis proudly boasted the office had arrested 20 felons who voted illegally.

Those voters told the Herald and other news outlets they were given voter registration cards by their local election offices. DeSantis’ own administration didn’t flag them as ineligible. Some cases were dismissed by judges who found that the statewide prosecutors who filed the charges didn’t have the jurisdiction to do so.

The Legislature’s first order should be to prevent more ineligible voters from slipping through the cracks. Instead, its solution is to make it easier to prosecute them after they have already cast ballots. Legislation would clarify that the Office of Statewide Prosecution can investigate voting-related crimes. The office reports to a Republican, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and is a safer way for DeSantis to score wins than going through Florida’s 20 states attorney, prosecutors who are elected locally.

One-party control of Florida’s government is nothing new. What’s new is that the Legislature has become just another arm of the governor’s office. Its role isn’t to serve as a check on the executive power anymore, but to rubber stamp and inflate the man whose ambition and thirst for the spotlight have turned governing into a power-grabbing spectacle.

Steve Hinnefeld reports on a recent Gallup Poll that shows high patent satisfaction with public schools. Parents are not seeking “choice,” yet the legislature keeps enhancing legislation to create more school choice.

He reports:

  • Indiana parents are happy with their children’s schools. A remarkable 88% said they were satisfied with the quality of their child’s school. Figures were even higher for some groups: 90% for parents of elementary children and 96% in rural areas and small towns.
  • Parents know what schools are teaching and support it: 81% say they know what their children are learning in school, and 78% say they agree with it.
  • Those who disagree with what schools are teaching are a tiny minority of parents. Only 7% don’t approve of what the schools teach, and two-thirds of those admit they don’t know what that is. In other words, “I don’t know what they’re teaching but, whatever it is, I don’t like it.”

Yet a tiny and uninformed minority – much of it unconnected to schools — seems to have the ear of Republicans, who keep pushing legislation to restrict what schools can teach about race, gender, sexuality and other made-up controversies. They’ve also promoted “curriculum transparency” bills, apparently in the idea that schools are keeping parents in the dark.

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.

Robert Hubbell writes a thoughtful, informative blog. I’m posting this as part of my personal project to understand the new face of white supremacy. White supremacy has always been there, simmering below the surface. Trump invited them to show their faces and step into the daylight. They did, and DeSantis is sending them signals that he wants to be their champion.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has set his anti-education sites on Florida’s state colleges. Through a series of political and legal maneuvers, he has ceded control over Florida’s state colleges to ultra-conservative culture warriors like Christopher Rufo. In short order, DeSantis has announced that he will rid Florida state colleges and universities of curricula not “rooted in Western tradition” or that “compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.”

Amid the torrent of reporting on Ron DeSantis’s attack on critical race theory and intersectionality, the quiet part is often left unsaid. So let me say it: DeSantis’s educational agenda is code for racism and white supremacy. (Other parts of his agenda seek to erase the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ people.) DeSantis’s invocation of “Western tradition” is meant to suppress knowledge regarding the people (and contributions) of Asia, Africa, South America, Oceania, and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. See Talking Points Memo, DeSantis Makes 2024 Ambitions Clear As He Pours Gasoline On His ‘Woke’ Education Fire.

Given DeSantis’s generalized ignorance, his call to focus on “Western tradition” is a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to the discussion of unpleasant truths about America. For example, the enslavement of Black people was a “tradition” in North America for 246 years—and the abolition of that evil practice is relatively recent (155 years ago). So, a college course that honestly addresses the Western “traditions” of North America should include an examination that the role of slavery played in the economic, social, and political development of America.

But DeSantis isn’t stopping at converting Florida’s colleges and universities into re-education camps in the worst traditions of the USSR. He is seeking to up-end centuries of “Western tradition” embodied in the Constitution and the English common law: the requirement of a unanimous jury to impose capital punishment. DeSantis has floated the idea that a less-than-unanimous jury verdict can impose a sentence of death—an unconstitutional proposal designed to inflict the death penalty on more Black and Latino Americans. See Vox, Ron DeSantis wants to make it much easier for the state to kill people.

DeSantis is willing to do all this because he wants to capture Trump’s loyal base—which is the only hope that DeSantis has of becoming a credible candidate. As Trump becomes mired in criminal prosecutions, DeSantis will become emboldened and radicalized beyond his already extremist views. Doing so ignores the lessons of the 2022 midterms: persuadable Americans are done with Trump and his MAGA extremism. Like all military generals, Ron DeSantis is fighting the last war (the presidential election of 2020) and has failed to heed the tectonic shift that occurred in the midterms.

John Thompson, a retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, has written frequently about events in his state for this blog. Here, he describes the political coercion that determined right-wingers are promoting in Oklahoma and calling it “choice.” From his description, some Republican legislators are worried about “liberal indoctrination,” transgender students using the “wrong” bathroom, litter boxes for children who think they are cats (this seems to be a QAnon idea), and the danger of “social-emotional learning.” Apparently students in Oklahoma have no social or emotional issues.

Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s newly elected, extreme rightwing Secretary of Education, first says that “the state should have the ‘most comprehensive school choice in the country.’” Secondly, Walters pushes the rightwing Michigan-based Hillsdale College curriculum; he doesn’t want to allow schools to choose to retain research-based curriculums that he identifies as “liberal indoctrination.” As Clark Frailey, executive director of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, says, Walters seems to be pushing for “Christian Dominionism,” which is “based on the philosophy that Christianity is at the core of America’s foundation and all institutions need to align with that viewpoint. If people won’t convert, then a government religion must be forced upon them.”

Two voucher programs for private schools and homeschools have been filed. The most interesting one is Sen. Shane Jett’s Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids (PEAK). Even extremely conservative Republicans legislators worry that vouchers would undermine the finances of their rural schools. Jett seems to be offering a carrot and a stick to those vulnerable constituencies. He would impose vouchers only in counties with a population of more than 10,000 people. But, vouchers would be offered in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents if they are served by a “trigger district.”

The Oklahoman then reports:

Jett defined a “trigger district” as a public school system that allows or tolerates House Bill 1775 violations, use of school bathrooms according to gender identity, anthropomorphic behavior known as “furries,” disparagement of the oil and gas industry, lesson plans promoting social-emotional learning and animal rights activism, among other topics.

In other words, the bill would coerce schools into “choosing” to comply with the entire extremist agenda. But that begs the question about how educators would choose to deal with today’s threats to public education. Republican Sen. Adam Pugh’s newly revealed plan for school improvement was based on meetings with 200 public school superintendents; every college president in Oklahoma; and “hundreds, if not thousands” teachers and parents and advocacy groups.  Based on these listening sessions, Pugh did not propose vouchers.

Pugh’s plan would raise teacher pay so the minimum starting salary was $40,000, “with graduated raises to the minimum salary schedule based on longevity.” The estimated cost would be $241 million, which is less than the cost of Sen. Julie Daniels’ voucher bill ($275 million). They would  also create an “Oklahoma Teacher Corps” and a teacher mentoring system;  provide certain teachers at least 12 weeks of maternity leave; update the school funding formula, and pass Pugh’s seven other constructive reforms. 

As Pugh explained, “I hope this plan will demonstrate to teachers that we’re serious about the work that you do, and we appreciate how you pour your heart and your soul into educating kids, as we need you to stay in the classroom, and we need more of you.”

But, the Stillwater News Press offers an equally important response:

While that offers us a bit of a sigh of relief, Oklahomans should be aware that the push [to] move taxpayer money into private schools isn’t going anywhere. It’s a well-funded campaign and the state’s administrators and board members have been handpicked to make that a top priority.

I’m afraid I agree with the Stillwater News. Pugh’s bills raise hope. But Oklahoma Republicans will continue to coerce schools into compliance with their extremist privatization and Christian Dominionism ideologies – and call it “choice.”

On the other hand, more Republicans sound like they are getting fed up by Walters and his minions. This week, the Secretary of Education was supposed to present a budget to a legislative subcommittee for planning purposes, but a letter obtained by the Tulsa World shows that Walters seems to be prioritizing “ridding public education of ‘liberal indoctrination.’” Walters’ “spokesman” said he “has requested additional information on diversity, equity, inclusion programs (DEI) to fully understand the extent of indoctrination happening in higher education.”

The letter said:

Please provide a full outline and review of every dollar that has been spent over the last 10 years on diversity, equity, inclusion. Additionally, I want an overview of your staffing and the colleges underneath your oversight as the Chancellor of Oklahoma Higher Regents within every DEI program … and expenditures,” Walters wrote on letterhead of the Office of the Secretary of Education. “Lastly, please provide a copy of the materials that are being used in any of these programs.”

Neither has Walters followed legislative norms for presenting a public education budget. As Nondoc reported, Walters said he instituted a hiring freeze and a spending freeze for the State Department of Education when he took office and all related decisions require his approval. And, in addition to demanding vouchers, he has insisted on any teacher pay raise being performance-based. Above all, Walters said he would be bringing a completely different budget than the one his predecessor drafted. 

Republican Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin) responded saying, “district superintendents had expressed concern for ‘the next four years’” because of Walters’ campaign comments. Rep. Dell Kerbs, (R-Shawnee) commented, “I don’t need elevator speeches. I need details.” Subcommittee Chairman Mark McBride (R-Moore) understood the argument that performance pay could be a part of teacher pay, but he said that Walters’ plan went too far. And then he tried to get Walters back to the normative procedures which the subcommittee follows for helping craft funding priorities.

McBride “interrupted Walters,” and asked, “Are you saying the budget will totally change — you’re presenting a budget that’s not going to be the same budget, and you’re going to totally change it?”

Nondoc reported that “McBride seemed confused and paused for a moment.” When Walters tried to change the subject, [McBride] interrupted him and asked why Walters was presenting a budget that would not exist in a week. Walters again changed the subject and, as Nondoc reported, “McBride interrupted him again, asking him to stay on topic presenting monetary figures rather than discussing policy and slipping into “campaign rhetoric.” McBride said, “With all due respect, I need the performance review for last year. That’s what you’re here to present.” Then, after that interruption, Walters stopped his presentation.

 After the meeting, Matt Langston, Walters’s “spokesman” (a paid GOP consultant based in Texas) said, “Not one person in Oklahoma is surprised that Democrats are unhappy with the political theater that was orchestrated today.” According to Langston:

They do not want transparency, accountability or even basic reform because they are used to playing in the shadows. Union bosses, whining and liberal tears will not stop education reform, and the superintendent is looking forward to next week’s actual budget hearing.

Stay tuned! When Walters reveals his budget, chaos and vitriol will increase, and we’ll see whether Walters really believes he can implement his promise or “suggestion,” that “received some pushback from lawmakers in 2022,” a ten-year plan to reject all federal spending on education