July 13, 2023

Steve Berch: Privatizing public education

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Representative Steve Berch is serving his third term in the Idaho House. Here, he lays out the basic steps to promoting school privatization.

Privatizing public education

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on July 12, 2023

Idaho will spend $2.3 billion on K-12 public education in 2024. There are powerful out-of-state forces who want to get their hands on that money. Some are driven by profit, others by political ideology, religious beliefs, or a combination of interests. They all share one common goal: shift your public schools dollars to the private sector. Here are some of the dots to connect in the “privatizing public education” playbook:

  1. Make public schools look worse than other school choices. The legislature does this by continually underfunding public education. Schools can’t meet parental expectations, accommodate growth, or hire/retain experienced teachers when salaries are not competitive and buildings are falling apart. Idaho has a backlog of over $1 billion in K-12 school building maintenance and we’re still at or near the bottom in per-student investment, even after having a $2.1 billion surplus and a recent budget increase. This makes other school choices look more attractive by comparison.

  1. Undermine confidence in public schools. Propaganda campaigns incite fear and anger against local schools. Parents are bombarded with false claims about porn in libraries, groomers in classrooms, and student indoctrination. Non-stop postings on social media perpetuate these inflammatory accusations. Self-proclaimed “think tanks” funded by third-parties produce official looking reports that create a false perception of legitimacy to these manufactured fears.

  1. Hide the facts. Legislative leaders tried to kill the Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) – which provides factual, in-depth, unbiased research and analysis to the legislature. The public wouldn’t know about the billion dollar backlog in school building maintenance if OPE didn’t exist. The OPE report that revealed this new information angered political leaders trying to tell a different story. Without facts, false narratives go unchallenged.

  2. Legislative intimidation. New laws are making classrooms a hostile workplace. This includes bills that threaten to sue educators, imprison librarians, fine school districts, muzzle teachers, and empower the Attorney General to aggressively prosecute the targets of these punitive laws. No wonder teachers are leaving Idaho.
  1. Promote “school choice” and “education freedom.” This is clever rhetoric, but it is meaningless since Idahoans already have a myriad of education choices – none of which are going away. It’s not about having choice, but rather having you pay for someone else’s choice. A recent in-depth investigation revealed a vast network of powerful forces funneling money into Idaho to promote and sell their alternative education choices to the public.

  2. Kill public education with vouchers (deceptively called Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs).  An attempt was made earlier this year to convert most of the $2.3 billion public education budget into checks sent to parents to spend however they want – without accountability. This would starve Idaho public schools into oblivion.

The 2023 bill tried to hit a home run and failed. However, the lobbyists behind privatizing public education will be back, fronted by their legislative allies. Expect to see legislation next year that allows public tax dollars to pay for private and religious school tuition in limited amounts and isolated situations.

This is fool’s gold – there is no room for compromise. If the legislature allows just a small amount of public tax dollars to be spent on tuition for any private school, your tax dollars must be made available to all types of private schools and religious schools. Once one bill passes, the flood gates open up to flow your public education dollars to the bottom line profits of private sector businesses.

Your public education tax dollars belong in your public schools, not in their pockets.



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