Archives for category: Religion

Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation that will offer public money for the schooling of every student in the state, with no income limits. The state will pay tuition for private schools, religious schools, homeschooling or any other variety of schooling. Critics warned that this bill would be devastating for the state’s public schools. Voucher schools are completely unregulated. The students are not required to take state tests; the schools are not required to hire certified educators. Anything goes. Florida has tough accountability for public schools, but no accountability for voucher schools.

The Orlando Sentinel reported:

At a bill signing ceremony at a private boys high school in Miami, DeSantis described the legislation as “the largest expansion of education choice not only in the history of this state but in the history of these United States. That is a big deal.”

The controversial bill was celebrated by GOP leaders and parents who currently use the scholarships, but it also faces fierce criticism from those who say its price tag — estimates range from $210 million to $4 billion in the first year — will devastate public schools, which educate about 87% of Florida’s students.

Critics also argue an expansion will mean more public money spent on private, mostly religious, schools that operate without state oversight. Some of the schools hire teachers without college degrees and deny admission to certain children — most often those who don’t speak English fluently, have disabilities or are gay.

“Funneling this much in taxpayer dollars to private schools with no parameters to ensure accountability for student success is fiscally irresponsible and puts at risk the families and communities who utilize our state’s public schools and the services they provide,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute, in a statement.
The think-tank opposes the expansion of Florida’s voucher programs and estimated the $4 billion hit to public schools.

Through its voucher programs, Florida currently provides scholarships to more than 252,000 children with disabilities or from low-income families.

Under the new law, the income guidelines are wiped out, though preference will be given to those from low and middle-income backgrounds. The result of the universal voucher law is that all of the 2.9 million public school-age children in Florida could opt for an “education savings account,” if they left public schools, and those already homeschooled or in private school could seek the money, too.

In 2017, the Orlando Sentinel published a prize-winning investigation of Florida’s voucher schools called “Schools Without Rules.” The series has been repeatedly updated. It’s worth subscribing to the newspaper to read the series.

Our reader Carolmalaysia received a letter from the Indiana State Teachers Association, protesting two bills to undercut public schools, teachers and librarians. She signed the petition.

1.] TAKE ACTION: Tell legislators to prioritize public schools and reject private school voucher expansion in radical state budget

All kids, no matter where they live, should be able to pursue their dreams in a great public school. However, the currently proposed radical budget increases spending on private school vouchers by 70%, while increasing traditional public school funding, where 90% of Hoosier students attend, by only 5%.

The current budget would provide more than $1 billion for wealthy families making up to $220,000 to attend private school for free, while neighborhood public schools continue to struggle to provide enough resources for students and pay hard-working educators a competitive salary.

Urge lawmakers to prioritize public education and oppose this huge expansion of unaccountable private school vouchers in the budget. Ask them to increase their commitment to public schools.


SB 12 is yet another culture war bill furthering a false narrative about our public schools. Rather than locally addressing issues over content, the bill would open teachers and librarians to criminal prosecution over educational materials. The bill would remove existing legal defenses schools and school libraries may use when locally determining educational materials. These matters will end up in litigation without administrative steps.

This bill has passed out of the Senate and is now under consideration by the House. Tell your representative to oppose SB 12.

John Thompson is a retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma who follows the goings-on in his state closely. I wish there were someone like him in every state: wise, experienced, intelligent, articulate.

What was Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters thinking when, this weekend, he posted on Twitter a photo of a White, blond, young woman washing her hands in a bathroom with two Black, young women in the mirror next to her? To see the photo, click here.

Walters added the message, “I will always fight for students,” and “Student Safety over liberal agenda.” But, why would Walters see the photo as a real-life portrait of Blacks threatening Whites?

Since I’m not familiar with the insides of female students’ bathrooms, I checked out the 1.3k replies to the post. One responder found the same three young women in another photo that indicates it didn’t capture a real-life interaction. Another apparently found the source of the photo, a Linkedin post by Femly, entitled Period Equity Laws: Here’s why organizations should go above and beyond to ensure their period care offering is equitable! So, it appears to me that Femly’s message is about combating the stigma and shame that surrounds menstruation, even though Ryan’s use of the photo obviously sent the opposite message in terms of race.

One response on Twitter asked why Walters would choose “a period equity ad and then present it in such as a way that it looks pro-segregation?” But another had a different answer, noting that one of the Black students “clearly has books in that backpack. I’ll bet they’re books that promote CRT—books about the Tulsa Massacre or the Trail of Tears.”

Seriously, these tweets all add support for the editorial, It’s Time for Ryan Walters to End Disparaging Rhetoric or Resign, by the Oklahoman’s managing editor for diversity, community engagement & opinion, Clytie Bunyan. Bunyan wrote the “tweet was the latest of Walters’ blatant and unapologetic insults on Oklahoma.” She also provided context:

When you’re looking at curricula and allowing European history but surgically removing Black history, that’s racism. When Walters poses for a Christmas photo with his family with a white Santa and declares “No Woke Santa this year” at a time when stories about the popularity of a Black Santa and representation from a Native American Santa are published and aired in local media, that’s racism.

Bunyan correctly noted that Walters has:

Problems with messaging. His incessant video tweets are filled with offensive racist implications. He apparently believes we, the people of Oklahoma, have given him the authority to be unabashedly racist in his dog-whistling pronouncements.

Buynan notes that the “confusing tweet” … “leaves no positive benchmark, only angst, tension and more poison spreading through Oklahoma.” So, if he can’t do more than spread discord, he should “resign.”

As was demonstrated in the previous week, Walters is not alone spewing hatred and racism. So, I wonder what was on the minds of the Republican House members who censured and removed Rep. Mauree Turner from her committees. What did they think was in the head of the nation’s first, non-binary, Black Muslim, when she spoke with Capitol law enforcement agents before giving them access to her office and a trans-gender demonstrator? As Politico explained, “the spouse of a protester who threw water on a state lawmaker sought shelter in their office.”

Politico also recounted the abuse and death threats Turner has received, and it added an Editor’s note:

Turner read aloud from an email sent to their inbox. The sender hurled racist, transphobic, homophobic and Islamophobic insults at Turner and said they should be shunned from society because they were a burden. POLITICO has chosen not to print the insults so as not to elevate hateful rhetoric.

So, what did Turner have in mind when speaking with the police? Rep. Turner has witnessed the stress created by 40 anti-trans and/or anti-LGBTQ bills that have been filed this session. The protest was against “HB 2177, a bill that would outlaw gender-affirming health care for transgender minors.” And clearly, Turner and her supporters were being treated differently than the two legislators who are being prosecuted for felonies.

And, I wonder what the Republican leadership was thinking when they failed to talk with Turner before filing the censure without warning. And I wonder what Republicans who were quietly embarrassed by it were feeling when they stripped Turner’s and her district’s representation in committees.

Of course, there are questions about what plenty of Oklahoma MAGA’s had in mind when they’ve made extreme statements. For instance, what did Gov. Stitt mean when he claimed “every square inch” of Oklahoma for Jesus? And what was Sen. Shane Jett thinking when attacking Social and Emotional Learning as a leftist plot to “psychologically manipulate children and surveil Oklahoma families under the guise of addressing trauma.”

Then, what was in the minds of Republicans who voted down a bipartisan bill, HB 1028 which “would prohibit schools from administering corporal punishment to “any student identified with disability in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

As the Washington Post reported, “Oklahoma state Rep. John Talley thought his bill to bar schools from spanking children with disabilities would find little to no opposition at the state’s legislature.” After all, he “had a call with a U.S. Marshal who told me his autistic daughter got spanked three times in a day for not doing her math correctly — there’s a point when you have to step up and say ‘this is just wrong.’”

But, “what seemed like a rare bipartisan moment quickly came crashing down as other Republican lawmakers invoked the Bible to argue against Talley’s House Bill 1028, claiming in some instances that ‘God’s word is higher than all the so-called experts,’ as Rep. Jim Olsen posited during the proposed legislation’s debate.” The Tulsa World’s Randy Krehbiel reported that Olsen further explained, “Somebody mentioned that American (Academy of) Pediatrics thinks (spanking) is a bad idea.” Then, “After reading Bible verses he said prove that God condones corporal punishment. ‘I disagree. And I have a higher authority.’”

In other words, every week since the Oklahoma legislature convened, rightwing extremists have continually hurled one cruel and irrational assault after another at our democracy. It seems like more Republicans are disturbed by this MAGA craziness. A few have spoken out against a few of the behaviors that they see as wrong. So, I wonder what is in the minds of Republicans who are being pressured to vote for such a brutal agenda. I wonder when they will reach a point when you have to step up and say “this is just wrong.”

John Thompson added as a postscript:

“Several people were a little nervous about voting for it because they thought they were voting against the Bible,” said [John] Talley, R-Stillwater,” and he’s working to get those Republicans to reconsider their votes.

Mercedes Schneider tries a thought experiment. Is it possible to create a universal education voucher that is “seamless” and reduces the role of government?

Imagine a state with one million students, each given a sum of money to spend on their education. Simple, right?


As she demonstrates, such a program will require a massive bureaucracy to administer. Unless the public doesn’t care where the money goes, whether it was wasted or stolen.

She begins:

The idea of taxpayer funding for K12 education following the student– “funding portability”– is not new. Following the COVID pandemic and the closing of schools (or following a virtual model that taxed family functioning and internet capabilities) has contributed to a rise in public willingness to consider funding portability. Conservative organizations like the Reason Foundation are ready to offer suggestions on how to institute universal funding portability “and ensure funds flow seamlessly across district boundaries.”

As I read the Reason article linked above, my first thought was on how it would require a monstrous bureaucracy to administer and track funding sent directly to the parents/guardians of each student. This cannot be understated. Consider the mess it would be, say, if the funding went to an old bank account, or wrong bank account. Consider the bureaucratic mess it would present if a child transferred schools at an inconvenient time. So many bank accounts to keep straight. So many payments or partial payments to track to parent from state, or from parent to correct school. Not just any school– the school at which student attendance has been verified.

Now think of this on the level of hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of students.

In order for the transfer of funds to proceed “seamlessly” (Reason’s word), it would entail rules and guidelines, and accountability departments and scheduled, incremental payments, and stop-payment procedures for the school the student no longer attended. It would mean an established appeals process when money was sent to the wrong school, or in the name of the wrong child even in the same household (say, if several children attend different schools, even in different counties or states).

I haven’t even mentioned the bureaucracy needed to to both combat and confront acts of fraud committed by those disbursing and receiving funds.

Universal funding portability would also mean school and district budgets being thrown into chaos because money supposed to arrive one child at a time doesn’t just show up like idyllic magic.

None of this is smooth, and none of this is easy, and none of this is wondrously seamless.

Please open the link and read on.

Conservatives won a smashing victory in their efforts to smash public schools and gut teachers unions. The Republican-dominated in the legislature passed a bill for universal vouchers, with no income limitations. After this bill passes the upper house and is signed by Governor DeSantis, every student in the state will be eligible for a voucher for any school.

Students in voucher schools do not take state tests. voucher schools are norms required to have credentialed staff. Voucher schools get public money but they are free from accountability and transparency required of public schools.

Typically, in every state that offers vouchers, 75-80% are claimed by students already enrolled in private schools. This legislation is a subsidy for affluent families.

The Republican-controlled House on Friday passed a measure that would make every Florida student eligible for taxpayer-backed school vouchers, as Democrats and other critics slammed the expansion as a “coupon for millionaires.”

House members voted 83-27 along almost straight party lines to pass the bill. The Senate could consider a similar bill (SB 202) as early as next week. The proposals have sailed through the Legislature, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has pledged that he would sign a vouchers expansion.

Opposition to the House bill centered, in part, on eliminating income-eligibility requirements that are part of current voucher programs. Families would be eligible to receive vouchers under the bill if “the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state.”

Rep. Marie Woodson, D-Hollywood, echoed many other opponents Friday when she criticized the possibility that wealthy families would receive vouchers.

“This bill is an $8,000 gift card to the millionaires and billionaires who are being gifted with a state-sponsored coupon for something they can already afford,” Woodson said.

Read more at:

ProPublica wrote recently about a powerful organization of far-right conservatives that carefully avoids public scrutiny. They are wealthy, powerful, and networked, thanks to the Federalist Society and its mastermind Leonard Leo. Leo is the guy who picked judges for Trump and engineered the selection of Brett Kanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Please read this article about Teneo, an organization with long tentacles and a goal of crushing liberal ideas, ideas that are central to our democracy.

A few tidbits:

ProPublica and Documented have obtained more than 50 hours of internal Teneo videos and hundreds of pages of documents that reveal the organization’s ambitious agenda, influential membership and burgeoning clout. We have also interviewed Teneo members and people familiar with the group’s activities. The videos, documents and interviews provide an unfiltered look at the lens through which the group views the power of the left — and how it plans to combat it.

In response to questions for this story, Leo said in a statement: “Teneo’s young membership proves that the conservative movement is poised to be even more talented, driven, and successful in the future. This is a group that knows how to build winning teams.”

The records show Teneo’s members have included a host of prominent names from the conservative vanguard, including such elected officials as U.S. Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, a co-founder of the group. Other members have included Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, now the fourth-ranking House Republican, as well as Nebraska’s attorney general and Virginia’s solicitor general. Three senior aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, are members. Another is the federal judge who struck down a Biden administration mask mandate. The heads of the Republican Attorneys General Association, Republican State Leadership Committee and Turning Point USA — all key cogs in the world of national conservative politics — have been listed as Teneo members…

Teneo co-founder Evan Baehr, a tech entrepreneur and veteran of conservative activism, said in a 2019 video for new members that Teneo had “many, many, many dozens” of members working in the Trump administration, including in the White House, State Department, Justice Department and Pentagon. “They’re everywhere….”

Soon after Leo took an interest in Teneo, the group’s finances soared. Annual revenue reached$2.3 million in 2020 and nearly $5 million in 2021, according to tax records. In 2021, the bulk of Teneo’s income — more than $3 million — came from one source: DonorsTrust, a clearinghouse for conservative, libertarian and other charitable gifts that masks the original source of the money. In 2020, the Leo-run group that received the Chicago business owner’s $1.6 billion donation gave $41 million to DonorsTrust, which had $1.5 billion in assets as of 2021.

Teneo’s other funders have included marquee conservative donors: hedge fund investor Paul Singer, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the DeVos family, according to Baehr.

As the group’s finances improved, its videos became much more professionally produced, and its website underwent a dramatic upgrade from previous iterations. All of this was part of what Baehr called “Teneo 2.0,” a major leap forward for the group, driven in part by Leo’s guidance and involvement….

Many of the connections happen at Teneo’s annual retreat, which brings together hundreds of members and their spouses, plus allies including politicians like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and DeSantis as well as business leaders and prominent academics. Speakers at past Teneo retreats have included luminaries spanning politics, culture, business and the law: New York Times columnist David Brooks, federal judge Trevor McFadden, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, “Woke, Inc.” author and 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, former Trump cabinet official and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, ultrawealthy donors and activists Dick and Betsy DeVos, and Chick-fil-A board chair Dan Cathy.

These are the only posts today. Read them. Think about it. What did you learn? What should we do? None of us is a billionaire. How can we save our democracy?

Organize. Be informed. Vote.

The Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers writes in the Oklahoma Gazette about the state superintendent Ryan Walters, who is intent on playing the role of Ron DeSantis and indoctrinating the children of Oklahoma in his own narrow-minded views. Dr. Meyers refers to Ryan Walters as “the Tucker Carlson of education.”

This is a brilliant article. Open the link and read it in full.

Dr. Meyers writes:

Oklahoma’s new state schools superintendent is about to take a desperate situation and make it awful.

His plans for stamping out “wokeness,” critical race theory, and boys using the girl’s bathrooms sounds nothing like a plan to advance education, and more like a platform to become Ron DeSantis Jr. The irony of this culture war approach to education is transparently hypocritical. Walters claims to be all “for academics and against indoctrination,” while making it clear that he alone will decide who gets hired, who gets raises and what gets taught in our schools. That is the very definition of indoctrination.

Beware the zealot who is going to save you from something that may or may not exist and intends to burn down your house to do it. Beware the fearmonger who incites the masses to muzzle free and open discourse about dangerous ideas so that he can make duplicate zealots for even worse ideas. Beware the evangelist who rails against other people’s sins while lining his pocket from two jobs at taxpayers’ expense while vowing to cut wasteful government spending. Ryan Walters makes more than the governor.

Oklahoma is in a death-spiral when it comes to public education but the problem is not “woke” Santas and drag queens. It is an unlivable wage for one of society’s most important jobs with working conditions so abysmal, even dangerous, that teachers are burned out and leaving the profession in droves. Many are moving to Texas where they can earn far more, proving that we have lost the only Red River showdown that truly matters.

Walters’ answer is to impose a hiring and spending freeze, a decision “he alone” can make to fix it (just as Donald Trump put it), and then “he alone” will review every personnel and budget move so that “we” will hire folks who are in lockstep with his goals for our kids. Walters was a teacher, but he needs to review Venn diagrams, where “he” and “we” do not overlap.

In his attack on critical race theory, he has the audacity to quote Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of living in a time when his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character (Walter’s campaign version of the quote is backwards, but hey, even teachers make mistakes).

“Unfortunately,” he continues, “a philosophy that teaches the opposite of this principle is ‘infecting’ our classrooms, and we need to put a stop to it.” CRT, he says, “is a dangerous and racist philosophy, and all it does is divide and characterize entire groups of people solely based on the color of their skin.”

If Walters said this in a classroom, one would hope that some very bright student might raise her hand to point out that characterizing entire groups of people based solely on the color of their skin was the norm before CRT. It is what King was fighting against and gave his life for. What sort of dream world is Walters living in? Or is that letting the whole Fox News crowd off too easily? They know exactly what they are doing.

They pretend that there is no separation of church and state because we were founded as a “Christian nation.” So, taxpayers of any religious persuasion, or no religious persuasion, can be forced to support white, wealthy, private Christian schools, while black and brown children can be warehoused in what’s left of the public schools. Then we can lie to them by pretending that America’s original sin is not systemic racism, but elite universities. We can’t assign books like Killers of the Flower Moon about the atrocities committed by white settlers against the Osage so they could steal their oil. That might make somebody “feel bad.”

Good teachers are what every kid deserves, says Walters, so let’s do merit pay based on student performance. This will guarantee that if you teach in a poor, underperforming school you will never get a raise, but if you teach in Deer Creek, you will end up making a six-figure salary. That will teach even the most idealistic among us to ignore the words of Jesus about helping “the last and the least of these.”

Walters is 100 percent pro-life of course, protecting who he calls “our most vulnerable.” But after they leave the womb, heaven help them if they are not straight white Christians. Their last, best hope to climb out of poverty would be a great public school education or a great teacher and mentor. Meanwhile, there is a mass-exodus of our best teachers, and it is about to accelerate.

As for diversity, equity, and inclusion, we will end up graduating students who don’t even know what those words mean or why they matter. As for the Second Amendment, Walters quotes the corrupt and disgraced NRA, saying that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. This after more than one mass shooting a day since Jan. 1. Truth be known, what stops a good student with a good mind is a bad teacher with an emergency certification….

Than you, Dr. Meyers. You nailed it.

The Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers is pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Norman and retired senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC in Oklahoma City. He is currently Professor of Public Speaking, and Distinguished Professor of Social Justice Emeritus in the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma City University, and the author of eight books on religion and American culture, the most recent of which is, Saving God from Religion: A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age. Visit

If you open the link, you will see other recent articles by The Rev. Dr. Meyers.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, provides up-to-date insight about the politics of education in his state. One remarkable development, which he describes, is the likely approval of a “religious charter school.”

Incidentally, the rightwing Manhattan Institute—where bigot Chris Rufo is a senior fellow—says the time has come to fund religious charter schools.

This week in Oklahoma, as expected, State Superintendent Ryan Walters, Governor Kevin Stitt, and other far rightwing extremists continued their divisive and cruel campaigns. Legal and legislative investigations of scandals involving Gov. Stitt’s staffers were also advanced. And, as was also expected, more Republicans pushed back against ideology-driven privatization schemes. Also, the effects of Gov. Stitt’s unprecedented takeover of five state agencies have continued to make headlines in the Oklahoman and the Tulsa World.

As the Tulsa World reported:

“Walters’ proposed new rules on parental rights [which] would require schools to allow parents to inspect sexual education classroom materials and to have schools honor their written objections “in whole or in part” to sex ed “or any other instruction questioning beliefs or practices in sex, morality, or religion…”

And, “Walters’ proposed new rules on school library materials [to] define ‘pornographic materials’” and “to submit to the state a complete list of all books and other materials available in their school libraries and have a written policy for reviewing the ‘educational suitability and age-appropriate nature.’”

Walters also removed photos of educators in the Education Department Hall of Fame, to prevent the highlighting of “Union leaders and association heads.”  Walters said the Education Department will not be showing “union bosses.”

Oklahoma also made national news for ignoring the law requiring charter schools to be “‘nonsectarian’ in their programs and operations and that no sponsor may ‘authorize a charter school or program that is affiliated with a nonpublic sectarian school or religious institution.’” A Catholic church applied for a virtual school charter. This religious charter school would be funded by “as much as $2.5 million in state money to serve a projected 500 students in its first year.” The school would hire “educators, administrators, and coaches committed to living and teaching Christ’s truth” as understood by the Catholic Church.

Education Week also explained that some “legal experts are horrified at the proposition.”  For instance, Derek Black says, “The explicit merger of public education with religious organizations to deliver a public education to students is something we haven’t seen or even contemplated happening in our lifetimes.”

Moreover, “MAGA” Republicans continue to attack parents of transgender children. For instance, Sen. Shane Jett “said kids are being told lies that they can transition from one gender to another.” He added, “There is no spectrum of choice, … You are a boy. You are a girl.” Jett says “people are cashing in on transgender care” and he claimed “it involves horrific surgeries with cascading consequences.”

On the other hand, House Speaker McCall who previously opposed vouchers and who will probably be running for governor, advanced HB 2775 and HB 1935 which pushed back against Walters, Stitt, and other rightwingers.  I’ve long respected the legislative leaders who stood in support of McCall’s bills, but I don’t know how to respond to that compromise. On one hand, I’d offer a concurring opinion in regard to Rep. Rhonda Baker, who said, “We figured out the solution without selling out to special interest groups that were putting pressure on us,” and I’d push back in terms of what happened when the House members were “very diligent about being careful to protect our constituencies.” But clearly, McCall’s constituencies were rewarded.

Yes, these House members proposed a $150 million pay raise, while protecting teachers from another doomed-to-fail merit pay gamble, but they offered a mere $2,500 raise, which is 1/2 of the Senate’s proposed raise. McCall protected rural and affluent schools but the funding formula capped payments at $2 million per district, meaning that urban districts that disproportionately serve poor children and children of color would be discriminated against. (An insider estimates that the largest districts will only receive a $250 per pupil increase, which is ½ of what smaller districts will receive. Another insider reports that the bill, as it reads today, would mean the high-poverty Oklahoma City Public Schools System would receive less than 1/10th of what a smaller district could receive.) Fortunately, former Speaker of the House Steve Lewis predicts that such a formula would be overturned in court. 

Yes, McCall shifted $300 million in education funds away from vouchers to districts. But they then shifted $300 million in tax revenues to tax credits, which Nondoc correctly described as “slightly different than the education savings accounts — or school vouchers.” So, in describing their tax incentives for the rich without using the word voucher, the Speaker could benefit politically, while actually providing a system worse than some other voucher bills.

Steve Lewis explains why that is the case. He lists the tuition of top private schools: “Casady, $24,850; Bishop McGuinness $15,005 plus $1,195 in fees; Bishop Kelly, $9,845; Cascia Hall, $16,800; and Holland Hall, $21,449.” So, “one could argue that the $5,000 credit is not going to help many new students go to one of these schools. The credit is most likely a gift to people already sending their children to private schools.”  

The compromise bill also offers a political bailout to Stitt and Walters, which is understandable for Republicans serving their most powerful constituencies. Both bills reward the affluent, but won’t help poor families that will be losing Covid-era health and food services.

Not being a Republican insider, I’m not qualified to judge the education policy concessions that were made by pro-education Republicans. Given my bias towards optimism, I would note that those trade-offs enable push-back against Stitt’s unprecedented takeover of state agencies.  The World’s Carmen Forman reports, “Republican lawmakers want to reduce the number of appointments Stitt gets to the State Board of EducationVeterans Commission and the Turnpike Authority board — all governing bodies currently stacked with the governor’s appointees.” 

In order to defend public schools, the complete control of the Board of Education by non-educators and privatizers must be reversed. So, Reps. Baker, and Rep. McBride “would dilute the governor’s near-total control of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. It [their bill] cleared the House Common Education Committee, which Baker chairs, on a unanimous 9-0 vote with no discussion or debate.”

By the way, McBride said, “I hope the governor does not take this as a personal attack.” But he was more explicit in his effort to block Ryan Walter’s rule-making. As Foreman reports, “McBride said he doesn’t want Walters making administrative rules for the State Department of Education as a ‘knee-jerk reaction.’” And he’s challenging the Board’s power to downgrade a school system’s accreditation because Walters criticized their books.  

When McBride’s bill passed by a 10 to 1 votes, he spoke his mind: “we currently have a legitimate problem. I want to put this gentleman [Walters] in a box… focus on public education and not his crazy destruction of public education.” McBride also said explicitly, “Its fear mongering, I think …And teachers, librarians, superintendents, principals are in fear of what he might do.”

Moreover, regarding the other four state agency battles, “Rep. Danny Sterling cited recent drama related to some of the governor’s appointments to the Veterans Commission as a prime example of why changes are needed. And the attorney general recently said Stitt did not follow state law when appointing three members of the commission.” And recently, a district judge ruledthat Stitt’s Turnpike Authority did not follow the Open Meetings law when funding a $5 billion project. 

Also, Stitt’s other two longstanding scandals are still unfolding. Newly-elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond is taking over the investigation of the Tourism Department and the “Swadley’s deal that spurred a criminal probe, an audita state lawsuit and numerous questions about why the business appeared to be overpaid for its work.” 

The most recent, ongoing scandal was that, “Matt Stacy, who served as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s hospital surge plan adviser during the COVID-19 pandemic, was charged with 13 felony counts.” The World explained, “He was accused of paying residents to be ‘ghost owners’ of grow operations for Chinese organized crime operations and other out-of-state clients.”  This also should be another reminder of the death toll that resulted from the confusion prompted by Stitt moving the Health Center’s testing lab as Covid was surging.

So, there are serious problems with even the best House bill, but maybe resistance to it will press legislators to support Republican Sen. Adam Pugh’s excellent bill. It would cost less by investing in schools, while not giving into pressure to help the affluent, and not discriminating against the poor.

Moreover, the pro-education Republicans understand that school improvement is impossible without building trusting relationships. And that is impossible until Stitt and Walters stop spreading hate and falsehoods. I also expect they understand that our democracy is in danger, and we must fight back against rightwing lies. 

And, maybe more of the rest of their party will join them.

The Network for Public Education posts regular features from the perspective of parents about their public schools. Some stories have a happy theme, some don’t. This post was written by Matt Gawkowski, a parent in Colorado who was very happy with the local public school. Then a slate of extremists took control of the local school board and created disruption. Matt became an activist. He had to.

I Never Thought I’d Become a Public School Activist. Then Extremists Took Over the School Board.

Matt Gawlowski

Like so many school districts across the country right now, rural Woodland Park, Colorado is being torn apart by politics. School board meetings are contentious, students are afraid and teachers are threatening to leave. Our community is fracturing.

It hasn’t always been this way. While Woodland Park is a politically conservative place, the schools have always felt isolated from politics. The political affiliation of parents, teachers and school board members didn’t matter because everyone worked together and took pride in the local schools. I was one such proud parent.

When I was asked to join the School Accountability Committee at my daughter’s school many years ago, I jumped at the chance. As a data nerd, I came away feeling deeply impressed by the school’s fiscal responsibility. When I sat in on a presentation by the superintendent at the time about the district budget, the fiscal conservative side of me was similarly dazzled. This was a school district that had its act together, I recall thinking.

Then in the fall of 2021, a group of four candidates who’d promoted themselves as ‘the conservative choice’ were elected to the school board. They quickly moved to transform the district, starting with the adoption of a sharply adversarial tone. In an email, one board member described teachers and their union as ‘the enemy.’ The founder of our local Christian bible college, an uncredited evangelical school that set up shop here several years ago, bragged about taking over the school board and announced that he’d sent a spy into the district to identify “homosexual books.”

And that was just the start. The new board approved a controversial charter school, one that the previous board had rejected, in part because enrollment in our rural district is declining. The rushed process not only violated open meeting laws but saddled the district with enormous consulting and legal fees. The board also terminated the previous superintendent’s contract, once again at great expense to the district, then chose controversial former school board member Ken Witt to serve as interim. Witt briefly served on the school board in Jefferson County but was recalled by voters after he accused the AP US history course of being insufficiently patriotic.

During a raucous meeting, the board voted to hire Witt over widespread opposition from students, parents, teachers and community members. The last member of the original school board, and the lone voice of reason in meetings, resigned. Students led two walkouts to protest and began showing up at board meetings to voice their opposition. The board blamed a teacher for the students’ actions and put her on administrative leave.

We fear that much worse is still to come. Radical curriculum reform (the board recently adopted the conservative American Birthright civics program, even after the state rejected it as too extreme), merit pay for teachers, and an effort to transform Woodland Park into an all-charter district will likely be on the agenda. Already, dozens of teachers have indicated that they’ll be leaving at the end of the school year. I am not opposed to honest, well-planned efforts to improve our district. But this board’s politically motivated actions have created massive disruption in the schools and the community.

My front row view of the battles taking place in my daughter’s school district has turned me into something I never thought I’d become: an activist. I certainly never thought I’d see the day when I’d be called a “hard left union lap dog wanna be thug,” as one director of the school board recently referred to me. In fact, I’m neutral on unions. A former registered Republican who once purchased a book by Rush Limbaugh I like low taxes, balanced budgets, and limited government. The truth is that I’d much rather just go back to being a dad and an introverted engineer, not the guy who is now an expert on submitting open records requests, and is a prominent voice in a Facebook group of similarly minded parents and community members.

I love our public schools and look at the country they have helped mold with pride. When I saw that the teachers and students in our local schools needed parents like me to speak up when they couldn’t, I had no choice but to step up. I hope that my story will inspire folks in communities where similar battles are raging to do the same.

Matt Gawlowski is a longtime parent in the Woodland Park RE-2 school district in Colorado. When not working as a mechanical engineer, you’ll find him outside trail running, backpacking, or skiing, depending on the season. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @EspressoMatt or at

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.