April 15, 2023

David Brockman: “School Choice” Is Just A Ploy To Defund Public Ed

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Religious studies scholar and Christian theologian David Brockman looks at the push for subsidized school choice and what is really driving it in Texas. 

Vouchers and voucher-like schemes have been floated repeatedly by Republican legislators over the years, and just as repeatedly have been shot down by the combined opposition of Democrats, rural Republicans, and public school advocates. This time, however, GOP leaders are going all out to make vouchers—in the form of education savings accounts (ESAs)—a reality here in Texas under the sunny mantra “school choice.” As Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, founder and executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, told the Texas Observer, “‘School choice’ is a deceptive misnomer” because the choice lies not so much with parents as with the private schools, which “are highly selective about who they enroll and who they do not enroll. They will not take the economically disadvantaged, at-risk, special needs, socially and emotionally challenged child because it is too expensive to teach that child.”

However, Republican leaders have laid the groundwork for ESAs through well-funded efforts to undermine confidence in public schools, along with an equally well-funded push by Christian nationalist donors to elect voucher-friendly candidates. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (who has long championed vouchers) said he and Governor Greg Abbott are “all in on school choice”; both have listed it among their legislative priorities for this session. Abbott has embarked on a statewide “parent empowerment” tour of private schools—so far, all of them Protestant Christian schools—to tout ESAs.

Brockman sees one group in particular using the fight for ESAs as a way to break down the wall between church and state,

Though not all “school choice” supporters are Christian nationalists, it’s hard not to notice the strong Christian nationalist presence among them. As I detail in a recent report, both Abbott and Patrick have voiced Christian nationalist sentiments. The Christian nationalist Texas Pastor Council enthusiastically backs using taxpayer money for private schools. And NBC News reports that the “school choice” push has been funded in large part by “a Christian nationalist-aligned political action committee … bankrolled by a pair of West Texas billionaires,” Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who “have expressed the view that Texas state government should be guided by Biblical values and run exclusively by evangelical Christians.”

While Christian nationalists seek conservative Christian dominion over law and public policy generally—especially in matters of gender and sexuality—public education has long been a primary concern for them.

That two-pronged attack on the wall takes a couple of forms, both of which concern Brockman.

If Christian nationalists’ influence on the public school curriculum amounts to removing bricks from the wall of separation, their second front—“school choice”—seems intended to undermine the wall’s very foundations. It would do so in a very obvious way: It would use our tax dollars to fund outright religious instruction in religious schools. Although ESAs could also be used to pay for instruction at nonreligious private schools, the most blatant threat to the wall of separation lies in spending tax dollars for religious schools.

That should worry Texans—religious and nonreligious alike—for several reasons.

It’s a big, thorough piece and well worth a read. Catch the full article here at Texas Observer.‘School Choice’ Is Just a Ploy to Defund Public Ed – The Texas Observer

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