Archives for category: Shame

Mark Leibovich is one of the most astute political journalists in the nation. Until last December, he was the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine. He is now a senior editor at The Atlantic.

This article, “The Most Pathetic Men in America,” explains in vivid prose why Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham worship at the feet of Donald Trump. They know he’s a fraud and a liar. They know he lost the election. But they slobber over him and crave his approval. Neither man has a shred of dignity or integrity. They are, quite simply, the most pathetic men in America.

Here is an excerpt:

Bottom line, Trump is an extremely tedious dude to have had in our face for seven years and running. My former New York Times colleague David Brooks wrote it best: “We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.”

Better objects of our scrutiny—and far more compelling to me—are the slavishly devoted Republicans whom Trump drew to his side. It’s been said before, but can never be emphasized enough: Without the complicity of the Republican Party, Donald Trump would be just a glorified geriatric Fox-watching golfer. I’ve interviewed scores of these collaborators, trying to understand why they did what they did and how they could live with it. These were the McCarthys and the Grahams and all the other busy parasitic suck-ups who made the Trump era work for them, who humored and indulged him all the way down to the last, exhausted strains of American democracy.

The GOP’s shame, ongoing, is underscored by the handful of brave Republicans willing to speak the truth about Trump in public, before the January 6 committee and on the panel itself. The question now is whether they have any hope of wresting some admirable remnant of their party back from Trump’s abyss before he wins the Republican nomination for president in 2024 or, yes, winds up back in the White House….

Consider again the doormat duo—McCarthy and Graham. I’ve known both men for years, at least in the weird sense that political reporters and pols “know” each other. They are a classically Washington type: fun to be around, starstruck, and desperate to keep their jobs or get better ones—to maximize their place in the all-important mix. On various occasions I have asked them, in so many words, how they could sidle up to Trump like they have. The answer, basically, is that they did it because it was the savviest course; because it was best for them. If Trump had one well-developed intuition, it was his ability to sniff out weakness in people—and, I suppose, in major political parties. Nearly all elected Republicans in Washington needed Trump’s blessing, and voters, to remain there. People like McCarthy and Graham benefited a great deal from making it work with Trump, or “managing the relationship,” as they say.

McCarthy knew that alienating Trump would blow up any chance he had of becoming speaker, which had become the singular objective of his “public service,” such as it was. He cultivated Trump from the start. The president came to refer to McCarthy as “my Kevin,” a term of ownership as much as affection. But “managing the relationship” was often a daily struggle, McCarthy conceded, when I interviewed him for The New York Times in his Bakersfield, California, district in April 2021. “He goes up and down with his anger,” McCarthy said of Trump. “He’s mad at everybody one day. He’s mad at me one day … This is the tightest tightrope anyone has to walk.”

Once, early in 2019, I asked Graham a version of the question that so many of his judgy old Washington friends had been asking him. How could he swing from being one of Trump’s most merciless critics in 2016 to such a sycophant thereafter? I didn’t use those exact words, but Graham got the idea. “Well, okay, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he told me. “‘This,’” Graham specified, “is to try to be relevant.” Relevance: It casts one hell of a spell.

“I could get Trump on the phone faster than any staff person who worked for him could get him on the phone,” McCarthy bragged to me. There was always a breathless, racing quality to both men’s voices when they talked about the thrill ride of being one of Trump’s “guys.”

What would you do to stay relevant? That’s always been a definitional question for D.C.’s prime movers, especially the super-thirsty likes of McCarthy and Graham. If they’d never stooped this low before, maybe it’s just because no one ever asked them to.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson pointed out an interesting development on her blog:

There was international condemnation of right-wing policies in the U.S. today, when the European Parliament voted 324 to 155, with 38 abstaining, to condemn the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wadedecision recognizing the constitutional right to abortion. It also demanded that the European Union recognize the right to abortion in its charter, and to provide “safe, legal and free abortion services, pre-natal and maternal healthcare services, voluntary family planning, youth-friendly services, and HIV prevention, treatment and support, without discrimination.”

Peter Greene tells the story caught on tape when Larry Arnn, president of rightwing Christian Hillsdale College, tells Tennessee Governor Bill Lee that teachers are the dumbest, trained by the dumbest, and you don’t need to know anything to be a teacher.

Governor Lee listens abjectly. He invited Hillsdale to open 100 charter schools across Tennessee. Hillsdale agreed to open 50.

Greene writes about Arnn’s tirade, which was taped:

“The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”


“They are taught that they are going to go and do something to those kids…. Do they ever talk about anything except what they are going to do to these kids?”


“In colleges, what you hire now is administrators…. Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It’s easy. You don’t have to know anything.”


“The philosophic understanding at the heart of modern education is enslavement…. They’re messing with people’s children, and they feel entitled to do anything to them.”


“You will see how education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. It’s like the plague.”

“Here’s a key thing that we’re going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”

Someone should have told Arnn that America was built by people who attended public schools, not by graduates of Hillsdale.

Governor Lee didn’t have the guts to stand up for the teachers of Tennessee. Probably he thinks the people who voted for him are the dumbest of the dumb.

Anne Thomas-Abbott, a teacher in Knoxville, did respond to Larry Arnn, whose contempt for teachers is abhorrent and ignorant.

Greene adds:

If you are shaking your head at Tennessee, I suggest you look around your own state first, because these public education-hating faux Christian right wingers are all over the country, and when he’s selling his product in public, Arnn is rarely as blunt as he was before the Tennessee crowd. Make sure everyone gets to hear what he really thinks.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a bully. He uses his power as Governor to force others to comply with his political ideology. Most recently, he forced the Special Olympics, which had chosen Florida for its competitions, to drop its vaccine requirement. This comes on the heels of an audit of Florida health data which found that the state had undercounted the numbers of COVID cases and deaths. Intentionally? DeSantis is probably the most likely Republican to run in 2024, if the aging Trump steps aside.

Rolling Stone and other publications reported the story:

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and his administration have used their authority to essentially punish organizations he deems to be insufficiently conservative. One of their latest targets is the Special Olympics. Jay O’Brien of ABC News reported on Friday that the governor threatened to levy an eight-figure fine against the Special Olympics if it didn’t drop its Covid-19 vaccine requirement for its games in Orlando this weekend.

The Special Olympics backed off its vaccine requirement hours later, saying in a statement, “We don’t want to fight. We want to play.”

A letter from the Florida Department of Health dated June 2 threatened to assess the Special Olympics a $27.5 million fine due to “5,500 violations” of state law prohibiting business entities (including charitable organizations) from requiring individuals to show proof of vaccination. The applicable fine per person under this law is $5,000.

DeSantis is a dangerous ideologue who disregards science and the lives of his constituents.

The latest news from Florida is that there is an outbreak of a new strain of omicron COVID virus. Governor DeSantis doesn’t care if anyone is vaccinated. He believes that “public health” is a private, individual decision and that government should do nothing to protect the public.

Jonathan Chait writes for New York magazine, where his latest article appeared, opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). CSP currently spends $440 million annually to underwrite new charter schools. Chait titled his article “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” but it might as well have been titled “Biden Abandons the Betsy DeVos Legacy on Charter Schools.”

Chait also attacked the Network for Public Education, which had issued two reports (see here and here) documenting the waste, fraud, and abuse in the CSP, based on the Education Department’s own data. NPE found that almost 40% of CSP funding went to charters that either never opened or closed within a few years of opening. In the life of the program, almost $1 billion had been wasted. In addition, NPE pointed out the scandals associated with some high-profile for-profit charter operators, as well as the use of CSP money to open white-flight charters.

This year, for the first time since the CSP was created nearly 30 years ago, the Department proposed to ban the funding of for-profit charter management organizations and of white-flight charters. The regulations also ask applicants for an impact analysis that describes what effect the new charter is likely to have on existing public schools and why the new charter is needed. These sensible reform proposals sent the charter lobbyists into frenzied opposition, claiming falsely that these regulations were meant to destroy all charter schools. This was nonsense because they would have no effect on the thousands of existing charters, only on applicants for new federal funding, that is, charters that do not yet exist.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, sharply denounced the lies and misrepresentations of the “trade organization” for the charter industry. But, despite her reproach, the charter industry still promotes dishonest diatribes about the Department’s efforts to reform the CSP.

Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, was incensed when she read Chait’s defense of the charter industry’s effort to protect the for-profit managers who have abused CSP funds and of the operators that have used CSP funding to provide white-flight charters.

She wrote the following response.

In his recent column, “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” Jonathan Chait is perturbed that the U.S. Department of Education referred Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum to me for comment on an article he was writing about the Department’s proposed regulations for funding new charter schools. He then scolds Barnum for not disclosing that the Network for Public Education has received donations from unions. He calls Barnum’s story “neutral.” Chait’s source for this big scoop? The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Jonathan Chait then parrots the “wild exaggerations and misrepresentations” that Rosa De Lauro called out last week after expressing her support for CSP reforms during the Education Department’s 2023 budget hearing. The Appropriations Chairwoman noted that “this kind of information campaign is a familiar tactic for the trade organization [National Alliance for Public Charter Schools]. It does represent charter schools that are run by risky low-quality for-profit education management organizations.”

You know those “wild exaggerations.” I wrote about them here. Obviously, Chait did not read the mentioned Barnum piece, which was solid reporting, and he certainly did not read the proposed regulations carefully (which Representative DeLauro described in a letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona about the charter industry’s misrepresentations). Or he just chose to twist facts and truth.

Now let’s talk about what Jonathan Chait failed to disclose as he opposed the CSP regulation reforms, using the same misinformation that has appeared in other op-eds.

His wife worked for Center City Charter Schools as a grant writer when that charter chain received two grants from the Charter School Program (CSP), the program whose loose rules he is now defending. Download the 2019 database that you can find here and match the years of dispersion to the resume of Robin Chait. But the undisclosed conflict continues to this day. Since 2018, Robin Chait has worked for West Ed which evaluated the CSP during the Betsy De Vos era. And her employer, West Ed, once got its own $1.74 million grant from CSP.

But back to NPE funding. During some recent years we got modest donations from unions to bring teachers to our conferences. At our very beginning, we received start-up funds from the Chicago Teachers Union through a fiscal sponsor, Voices for Children. That ended in 2015. We will always be grateful to our friend, the late Karen Lewis, for that jump-start. Karen foresaw the growing attacks on public schools and teachers as an ominous trend and wanted to encourage allies to support a bedrock institution of our democracy.

We appreciate any tax-deductible donations we get. You won’t get favors, but you will always get a thank you. Our income comes from individual donations from our large number of supporters—educators, parents, family foundations, and other citizens who have a deep and abiding love for public schools.

This is not the first time Chait has been called out for not disclosing his wife’s connections with charters. But given the topic and her work in organizations connected with the Charter School Program, this is the worst omission yet. Shame on New York Magazine for not making him disclose and for letting him play fast and loose with the truth. And shame on Chait’s hypocritical critique of Barnum even as he hides the family connections with the program he defends.

Caitlin Huey-Burns writes for CBS News that the states most likely to ban abortion are the states LEAST likely to provide resources for children. Their politicians love the unborn. The born and living, not so much.

The expectation that Supreme Court is about to scrap decades of federal protections of abortion rights is highlighting another issue: the lack of resources and support available for women to have and raise children.

More women living in states without abortion access, should Roe v. Wade be overturned, will likely carry to term. Yet, not one of the two dozen states with laws on the books restricting abortion access offers paid family leave.

Eight of them have opted out of expanding Medicaid coverage under the health care law, which covers pregnancy through postpartum for low-income Americans.

And Mississippi, whose abortion restriction law is at the heart of an impending Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, ranks as the state with the highest rate of young child poverty and low birth weight and among the highest when it comes to infant mortality rates.

It is also ironic that the states with the most horrible history of racism are likely to see an increase in their black population, since impoverished black women are not likely to have the money to travel to a state where abortion is protected by law. Over many years, the black population in Mississippi may grow large enough to demand a change in the political order.

Representative Gloria Johnson posted a series of tweets describing the hateful legislation that her colleagues in the Tennessee Legislature have passed. Her Twitter handle is @VoteGloriaJ

When I got home this weekend someone asked how things are going in Nashville, I’m not sure they were ready for my answer, but it went kind of like this…

We have a “Don’t Say Gay” bill worse than Florida’s and about 4 more bills to go along with it-all equally filled with hate. GOP and B list celebrities are accusing librarians and teachers of “grooming” kids.

We have a vigilante abortion bill worse than Texas’. A bill that makes your friends and family $10k if they rat you out. Heck, if you decide to abort your rapists baby, his family and friends can sue you for $10k.

Did you ever imagine TN would give more rights to a violent rapist than a victim of a violent rapist. He can choose the mother of his child, but she can’t choose not to have her rapist’s baby. That is pure evil folks. That is today’s GOP, they don’t believe women are equal.

We have a school funding formula that’s not ready for prime time. It takes away local control, doesn’t have details and is more than 50% rule making we won’t see until AFTER the vote. And counties will love the property tax it will inevitably bring in 3-4 years😬. #whenleeisgone

Craig Harris of USA Today wrote a blockbuster three-part series about the charter schools that grabbed at least $1 billion in federal funds from the COVID Payroll Protection Program, passed in 2020 to help struggling small businesses stay alive and retain their employees. Today the second part was posted. Because charter schools are “technically small businesses,” about 1,000 of them applied for the forgivable loans. None of the charter schools lost revenue or laid off employees but they asked for the money anyway. Even the charter school lobbyist—the National Alliance for Public charter Schools—asked for a $680,000 loan, which was forgiven.

Harris writes in this second part about charters that knew it was wrong to ask for PPP funding when they had no need, and others did. (I can’t find the link: if any reader can, please add.)

He starts:

‘The ethical thing to do’: Why this small San Diego charter school passed on COVID PPP loans

Albert Einstein Academies, a small San Diego charter school chain, turned down a forgivable $3 million Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Story Highlights

  • Learn4Life, a charter chain, got a combined $32.7 million in PPP loans through 12 related firms.
  • California charter schools had six of the eight largest PPP loans in the U.S. among charters.
  • In Arizona, two prominent charter chains also turned down the money, saying they didn’t meet the requirements.

SAN DIEGO – The Albert Einstein Academies, which educate 1,450 students from kindergarten through eighth grade at two inner-city campuses here, could have used a forgivable loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Half of the middle school students and close to one-third of the elementary kids come from low-income homes and qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at the charter schools, its superintendent said.

But while the academies were eligible for up to $3 million in forgivable loans based on revenuesthat largely came from taxes, Superintendent David Sciarretta didn’t feel right about taking the money.

He said the loan program, started by Congress in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, was intended to help financially struggling small businesses stay open and avoid laying off employees.

Charters are privately operated schools that are publicly funded.

We could have always used the money. But, growing up, my mom told me: ‘If there’s food on the table and there are other folks who are hungrier than you, then you need to let them eat because they have a greater need than you do.’

Sciarretta said Einstein, whose charter school campuses are minutes from downtown, didn’t suffer financially because California continued its pre-pandemic level of public school funding during the health crisis even if enrollment declined, giving some schools additional money.He said refraining from taking the loans was “the ethical thing to do.”

“We could have always used the money,” said Sciarretta, recently awarded the 2022 Hart Vision Award Winner for California Charter Leader of the Year. “But, growing up, my mom told me: ‘If there’s food on the table and there are other folks who are hungrier than you, then you need to let them eat because they have a greater need than you do.'”

Other schools took PPP loans

That wasn’t the view of at least 268 other California charter operators, who run some of the state’s largest and wealthiest publicly funded charter chains.

Those operators had at least $335 million forgiven, a USA TODAY investigation hasfound, the most of any state with charter schools. That’s about one-third of the $1 billion in loans obtained by more than 1,100 U.S. charter schools, which educate a fraction of the nation’s children and had the loans forgiven — even though most lost no money during the pandemic.

Several of those schools also employed more than 500 workers, the limit to qualify under the program, USA TODAY found.

Kathleen Hermsmeyer, superintendent of Springs Charter Schools in Temecula, said while California didn’t cut funding, it also did not increase it for charter schools like hers that specialize in at-home, remote or hybrid learning.

Those types of charter schools,which aren’t based in classrooms, experienced significant enrollment increases because of the need for distance learning during COVID,

She said her network added 1,000 students during the pandemic and needed its nearly $9.9 million loan —the largest of any charter operator in the country. The Small Business Administration, which is in charge of the PPP program that ended last May, forgave that loan on Dec. 1.

“It was exactly what PPP was designed for — to help us provide a great quality education for our children through the most difficult years ever,” Hermsmeyer said. “We kept our programs and services, and we did not cut salaries.”

The federal government promised to forgive the loans if the money was used to keep workers on the job and to pay for pandemic-related issues.

Researchers have found the SBA has forgiven most of the loans for all industries with little auditing done to see if the money was properly used. Meanwhile, up to three-fourths of the money went into the pockets of business owners, according to a recent study.

Which charter schools near you took federal PPP money?

Search USA TODAY’s database of more than 1,100 charter schools that had Paycheck Protection Program loans totalling more than $1 billion forgiven.

California, which in 1992 became the second state to allow charter schools, had more than 1,300 of the schools and seven all-charter districts at the beginning of this school year, according to the state’s department of education. That’s roughly 11.5% of the entire public school student population in California.

The state had six of the top eight forgiven loans for charter schools in America, all in excess of $5.5 million, records show.

California Congressman Judy Chu has been highly critical of the federal oversight, saying the agency and Treasury Department prioritized speed in getting money to businesses instead of scrutiny over who needed the cash.

Learn4Life gets most PPP loans

The largest block of forgiven loans, a combined $32.7 million, went to the same address in Lancaster, California, for 12 related nonprofit companiesthat are part of Learn4Life, a charter chain whose firms reported to the IRS that they employed a combined 4,567 workers during 2019.

The loans were obtained in April and May 2020, and forgiven throughout last year, federal records show.

The combined employment would be more than nine times the threshold for obtaining a PPP loan.

Learn4Life spokeswoman Ann Abajian said the organization had 1,685 employees among its companies.

She said the discrepancy occurred because the companies had previously counted seasonal and part-time employees in their staff totals and that information was disclosed to the federal government to have the loans forgiven.

Federal tax returns for the 2019-2020 fiscal year from those 12 nonprofits, which were signed by company executives, showed the higher staffing numbers.

For example, Learn4Life’s Antelope Valley Learning Academy Inc. reported employing1,302 staff, while Western Educational Corporation and Vista Real Public Charter employed 527 and 668 people, respectively.

“Each entity — as a separate charter nonprofit, with less than 500 employees and its own independent governing board — applied with accuracy and transparency, met the criteria, and was awarded the loans and later forgiven. Proper documentation with supplemental justification and backup was presented to SBA,” Abajian said.

The chain said it used the loans to purchase and distribute 20,000 laptops and 15,000 hotspots, baby supplies for hundreds of parenting students as well as an online curriculum. In addition, the organization said its technology support desk hired more staff.

Eric Cross (middle) teaches seventh-grade science at Einstein Middle School in San Diego. The school was eligible for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, but school officials turned it down because the state of California did not cut any funding to public schools.CRAIG HARRIS

Other businesses, such as Shake Shack, also counted separate locations to qualify for a PPP loan. That publicly traded company with more than 7,000 employees and 205 restaurants in the U.S., was one of the first to get a PPP loan. However, Shake Shack returned its $10 million loan following public scrutiny.

In Arizona, prominent, successful chains Basis Charter Schools Inc. and Great Hearts Academies said they didn’t seek the loans even though their individual campuses employed fewer than 500 workers. Basis and Great Heart officials said they read the SBA rules as requiring all employees within an organization to be counted and both were too big.

Meanwhile, other California schools that had jumbo loans forgiven included Granada Hills Charter in Granada Hills ($8.5 million), Antelope Valley Learning Academy in Lancaster ($7.9 million), Summit Public Schools in Redwood City ($6.9 million), Western Educational Corporation in Lancaster ($6.2 million) and Magnolia Educational & Research Foundation in Los Angeles ($5.5 million).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at: https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/readers-opinion/guest-commentary/article258850773.html#storylink=cpy

Paul Bowers, previously the education journalist for the Charleston, South Carolina, Post & Courier, writes his own blog. In this post, he calls on the state legislators not to pass voucher legislation that would predictably defund the state’s already underfunded public schools. South Carolina has a large budget surplus and one of the lowest tax rates in the nation. Governor Henry McMaster announced that the surplus would be used to lower taxes instead of funding public schools and other public services.

Paul wrote the members of the S.C. Senate Education Committee in opposition to Senate Bill 935, which is an attempt to divert public school funding to private schools.

Senators Massey, Jackson, Hutto, Rice, and Talley:

I write to you as a South Carolinian and parent of 3 public school students asking you to scrap Senate Bill 935, the so-called “Put Parents in Charge Act,” which would redirect public funds to private schools via the creation of Education Savings Accounts.

Every few years, South Carolina teachers and parents have to band together to fight the latest iteration of the school voucher meme, which has spread virally across the states thanks to millions upon millions of dollars of dark-money political contributions, astroturfed special-interest groups, and a network of libertarian billionaires’ pet thinktanks. We fought this idea when New York real estate investor Howard Rich tried to buy a voucher law here in the early 2000s, and we’re fighting it again now that ALEC, Palmetto Promise, and the like are trying to ram the same idea through the Statehouse in Year of Our Lord 2022. There is truly nothing new under the sun.

As the educator Steve Nuzum has pointed out several times this year, the bill you will be considering in a subcommittee meeting on Feb. 16is largely copied from a piece of “model legislation” churned out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing bill mill. I posit that we have enough terrible ideas to go around in this state without borrowing worse ones.

If enacted, this bill would be an obvious violation of the South Carolina Constitution, Article XI, Section 4, which states:

No money shall be paid from public funds nor shall the credit of the State or any of its political subdivisions be used for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.

Now, I am sure our attorney general would happily defend such an act against the inevitable lawsuits that would follow. I am no legal scholar, but I think it’s reasonable to assume he would employ some of the same arguments used to defend Gov. Henry McMaster when, in the thick of a global pandemic, he tried diverting $32 million worth of federal emergency funding from public schools to private schools. Notably, he lost that fight.

So, I suppose you and your colleagues in the General Assembly could enact this law, and you could win the legal battle that follows. Stranger things have happened. But the question remains whether you should go down this road.

I say no, you should not.

South Carolina’s most reactionary politicians have been clamoring for public divestment from the school system ever since radical Black Republicans created a free public school system for all in the Constitution of 1868. White supremacists clawed back at the notion of public goods with the Jim Crow Constitution of 1895; the Interposition Resolution of 1956; and the cavalcade of privatization laws, segregation academies, and district-level resegregation efforts that have continued without ceasing since Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954.

Data compiled by Steve Nuzum, via S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office

As a matter of policy, you and your colleagues in the General Assembly have been steadily defunding public education since the start of the Great Recession. You have broken your own promises as outlined in the Education Finance Act and are currently under-funding the Base Student Cost by about a half-billion dollars per year. The results have been disastrous: Our teachers are underpaid and quitting by the thousands, classroom sizes have ballooned, our rural schools are in physical shambles, and a system of separate and unequal education along racial and economic lines has returned with a vengeance.

It is difficult to predict how much money public schools would lose as a result of Education Savings Accounts, which would allow public funds to “follow” individual students to private schools. Our state’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office has tried to guess, though. According to a fiscal impact summary published in December, the ESA program could divert as much as $35 million to private schools within the first year it takes effect, depending how many families participate in the program. By 2026, they estimated the program could cost the state as much as $2.9 billion. Compounded by the General Assembly’s ongoing policy of public disinvestment, this could constitute a death blow to public schools.

The bill is built on a few faulty premises, including the underlying assumption that private schools could or would serve South Carolina students better. The authors of the bill also seem to believe that our state’s private schools could handle a sudden influx of new enrollment while accommodating students’ learning, transportation, and health needs. These are dicey propositions at best.

S. 935 is a direct attack on the notion of education as a public good. Its authors would leave us all to fend for ourselves as atomized individuals, cut loose from mutual obligations that once tied us together. For a certain type of doctrinaire conservative, this may sound like a dream scenario. For the rest of us living in the real state of South Carolina, it is a nightmare come true.

Regards,

Paul Bowers

North Charleston, S.C.