January 13, 2024

Melissa Gira Grant: The Right Is Winning Its War on Schools

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Writing for The New Republic, Melissa Gira Grant looks at the work of some far right groups, particularly the Heritage Foundation and their education point person, Lindsey Burke.

Burke has celebrated defunding public education through “education savings accounts” as a way to “restore parental control” over education, a frame that contains both the typical free-market conservative argument against public education and the Christian right argument against exposing children to the immorality of “government schools.” In the decades-old fight against public education, a figure like Burke represents something of a united front.

The linchpin in that fight is what is now called “parental rights.” In August 2022, at a Heritage event in Washington, Burke introduced a coalition working for what she called a new “values-based case for school choice.” In 2021, Burke co-wrote a paper with a colleague for the American Enterprise Institute that argued for “allowing families an escape hatch from government schools pushing an agenda that runs counter to their values,” like critical race theory and “transgender ideology.”

This “values-based” coalition Burke said she was introducing in 2022 involved “not just education choice groups,” she explained, “but also groups like Moms for Liberty,” who helped force “parental rights” onto the agenda in school board elections while also aligning with the far right, and “partners” such as Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nationalist law project focused on anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion cases, which argued both the Dobbs case and a recent fake same-sex wedding website case. These groups, Burke said, “understand that the school choice movement is the solution to current cultural battles.” Conveniently, these groups also instigated these “battles.”

California has become a testing ground for this coalition. In her election campaign for school board in Chino Valley in the Southern California suburbs, Sonja Shaw pledged her support to Moms for Liberty. She became president of a school board tilted to favor what her political adviser described as “a spiritual battle.” When Shaw recently wanted to scold an opponent who questioned her proposed policy to out trans students without their consent, she accused him of supporting “things that pervert children.”

Shaw is just one player in the larger national effort to demand that educators out trans students in the name of “parental rights.” Nearly 90 bills forcing teachers to monitor students’ gender expression—including dress, pronouns, and names—and report trans and gender-nonconforming students to parents were recently introduced in state legislatures across the country, according to PEN America’s Index of Educational Intimidation Bills. At least five states have adopted these policies into law: North Dakota, Iowa, Alabama, North Carolina, and Indiana. What we are seeing in places like Chino Valley reflects a coordinated national plan to push laws and policies that would penalize educators who don’t go along—inverting their roles as mandatory reporters of harassment, neglect, and abuse at home.

Read the full article here. 

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