March 8, 2023

Mimi Swartz: The Campaign to Sabotage Texas’s Public Schools

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In Texas Monthly, Mimi Swartz takes an in-depth look at the attacks in Texas on those who dare to stand up for public schools.

The scenes have become weirdly familiar all across Texas. Just a few years ago, furious, placard-waving parents protested pandemic-induced school closings and mask mandates. Now that anger has been redirected toward school library books that deal with issues of race and gender and toward the supposed teaching of critical race theory, a college-level framework for examining systemic racism that is not actually taught in Texas public schools.

A school superintendent in Granbury, southwest of Fort Worth, told a group of librarians that if they aren’t conservatives, they’d “better hide it.” In the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, northwest of Houston, three trusted incumbent school board members lost their elections, largely over their support for a resolution condemning racism. Other long-serving school board members throughout Texas have suddenly found themselves having to defend teachers who have been labeled, without a shred of evidence, as pedophiles or “groomers.” A Grapevine high school imposed new rules that led to a student walkout, with students calling the rules transphobic. Texas recently took the national lead in book banning (a frequent target is The Bluest Eye, by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison), and some school librarians who tried to hold the line against unwarranted censorship became targets of death threats.

Taken individually, any of these incidents may seem like a grassroots skirmish. But they are, more often than not, part of a well-organized and well-funded campaign executed by out-of-town political operatives and funded by billionaires in Texas and elsewhere. “In various parts of Texas right now, there are meetings taking place in small and large communities led by individuals who are literally providing tutorials—here’s what you say, here’s what you do,” said H. D. Chambers, the recently retired superintendent of Alief ISD, in southwest Harris County. “This divisiveness has been created that is basically telling parents they can’t trust public schools. It’s a systematic erosion of the confidence that people have in their schools.”

While some of the action may look grass roots, Swartz reports that there are other forces at work on the attempt to replace public education with privatized vouchers.

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s former Education Secretary, set up shop in Dallas with her American Federation for Children to push against “government schools” in favor of “school choice.” Political PACs such as Patriot Mobile Action, an arm of a Christian wireless provider in North Texas, continue pouring millions into school board races and book bans to promote more religious education. Patriot has joined other recently formed PACs with inspirational names such as Defend Texas Liberty and Texans for Excellent Education, all of which supposedly support better public schools but are actually part of the privatization push. But by far the most powerful opponents of public schools in the state are West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and the brothers Farris and Dan Wilks. Their vast political donations have made them the de facto owners of many Republican members of the Texas Legislature through organizations such as the now dissolved Empower Texans and the more recent Defend Texas Liberty, which the trio uses to promote restrictions on reproductive rights, voter access, and same-sex marriage. Almost as influential is the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where Dunn is vice board chair.

This article goes into considerable depth and is well worth your time. You can read the full piece here


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