September 12, 2022

Kathryn Joyce: Florida Is Number One In An Upside Down World

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The Heritage Foundation has begun a new annual project that provides one of the clearest pictures yet of what education privatizers want. Heritage has issued an Education Freedom Report Card. It echoes Bety DeVos’s ill-fated push for $5 billion education freedom accounts, a national version of education savings accounts aka super-vouchers.

ESAs figure in Heritage’s state rankings, as do three other items on the right wing wish list. 

There’s “regulatory freedom,” calling for an absence of “accountability” so that those operating in the open education market can do as they wish. There’s “transparency,” calling for public schools to operate in a fishbowl, and calling for states to issue gag orders and laws that make it easier for groups like Parents Defending Education to attack public schools. And finally “return on investment,” which purports to line dollars spent against NAEP scores, plus considering teacher pension plans as a proxy for “unions have too much power.”

For an outstanding dissection of the scores on the report card and what they mean, read Kathryn Joyce’s piece at Salon. 

What’s especially noteworthy about this report — which Heritage says it will release on an annual basis — is how closely most of its ranking criteria track with the right’s broader education agenda. Over the last few months, almost all  the issues addressed in this report have been highlighted as key action items for conservative education reformers, from the promotion of ESAs, as a preferred pathway to universal school vouchers, to alternative teacher credentialing to the expansion of the anti-CRT movement, which now encompasses anything related to “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Joyce notes how Heritage ties their report card to the legacy of Milton Friedman.

By 1980, Friedman was declaring that vouchers were merely a useful waypoint on the road to true education freedom, which would include revoking compulsory education laws. In 2006, shortly before his death, Friedman told an ALEC audience that it would be “ideal” to “abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

For Heritage to use Friedman as its ideological lodestar, public education advocates observe, makes clear what the report values most in the state education systems it’s ranking.

And Joyce offers this quote from the leader of Florida’s teachers union.

“This is a report that celebrates states not funding their students,” agreed Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest union. Noting that Florida in fact ranks 45th in the nation in average per-student funding, Spar continued, “In their report, it seems like the states that fund their students at a higher level have a worse ranking than those who invest less in their children.”

This amounts, Spar continued, to “the Heritage Foundation celebrating the rankings of how well you underfund public schools, how well you dismantle public schools. I don’t think we should celebrate the fact that we’re shortchanging kids.”

You can read Joyce’s piece here.

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