November 22, 2023

Thom Hartmann: Can We Stop the Republican War on Public Schools?

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Thom Hartmann takes a long tour through 20th century history and how many GOP politicians have attacked public education. Then he approaches the present.

America spent $794.7 billion on primary education last year. For-profit private schools and churches that run schools look at that pile of money and drool. Republicans are committed to delivering as much of it to them as possible, regardless of the damage it does to our nation’s schoolchildren.

Their strategy for privatizing our public schools is pretty straightforward, and echoes the plan of action Republicans are using right now to replace real Medicare with the privatized Medicare Advantage scam.

First, they falsely claim that they’ll deliver a better product at a lower cost. In the education realm, we see this with Florida and several other Red states now offering vouchers that can be used at private or religious schools to every student in the state.

(Nearly 2,300 private schools in Florida accept vouchers, but “69 percent are unaccredited, 58 percent are religious, and nearly one-third are for-profit.”)

As more and more students use the vouchers to flee public schools, the public schools sink into deeper and deeper financial troubles. Those cut the quality of teaching and upkeep of the school buildings, causing even more students to use the vouchers.

Because the vouchers never cover the full cost of private school tuition (typically they pay for half to two-thirds), the truly poor can’t use them: the result is the public school system becomes ghettoized, leading to even more flight by middle- and upper-class (white) people.  

Once the public schools are dead and the state has transitioned entirely to private schools, the state will claim budget problems and begin to dial back the amounts available for vouchers. (The same will happen with Medicare Advantage once real Medicare is dead.)

This will widen the relationship between the educational and wealth divides; the racial and class cleavage will become so great that the state will have effectively gone back to a “separate but equal” educational system. Which, of course, is the GOP’s goal.

Republicans are generally convinced that when people have a good, well-rounded education they will vote for Democrats, who explicitly value science and egalitarian social values. Thus, keeping our kids ignorant and destroying one of America’s largest unions, all while helping their education and religion industry friends get rich, is a complete win-win.

As conservative commentator Benjamin Weingarten writes:

“Red states are increasingly engaging in a broad push to purge public institutions of a Wokeness antithetical to the values and principles of their constituents…

“Yet at root, it is the schools — where our children spend much of their waking hours — that have disproportionate influence over American society, seeding every other institution that has succumbed to left-wing ideological capture. …

“It is incumbent on lawmakers and their appointees to use every lever of power they can, within every educational institution under their purview, to combat the divisiveness and forcible conformity engendered by DEI, CRT, and the like and to replace it with a system rooted in the values and principles on which Western civilization is based.”

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