The Unremitting Attacks On Public Education

The attacks on public education by “privatization” ideologues have ramped up under Betsy DeVos, who–as Mother Jones has reported–wants to use America’s schools to build “God’s Kingdom” and who has spent a lifetime working to end public education as we know it. She has ramped up those efforts since becoming Education Secretary, and she has help from other billionaire privatizers.

Last September, The Guardian reported on an Arizona effort spearheaded by DeVos and the Koch brothers.

Arizona has become the hotbed for an experiment rightwing activists hope will redefine America’s schools – an experiment that has pitched the conservative billionaires the Koch brothers and Donald Trump’s controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos, against teachers’ unions, teachers and parents. Neither side is giving up without a fight.

Groups funded by the Koch brothers and cheered on by DeVos succeeded in getting Arizona lawmakers to enact what the Guardian describes as “the nation’s broadest school vouchers law.” (If it is broader than Indiana’s program, that’s saying something.) The state-funded vouchers were designed to give parents more school choice and–like Indiana’s–could be used to enroll children in private or religious schools.

For opponents, however, the system wasn’t about “choice”–it was about further weakening Arizona’s public school system.

Six women with children in the public schools had lobbied unsuccessfully against the measure, and they decided to fight back. Arizona law allows referenda (Indiana’s does not), and the women decided–long odds or no– they would gather the 75,321 signatures they needed to get a referendum on the ballot to overturn the law. They formed a group, called it Save Our Schools, and set out to collect the needed signatures.

The six women inspired a statewide movement and got hundreds of volunteers to brave Arizona’s torrid summer heat to collect signatures – in parks and parking lots, at baseball games and shopping malls. Their message was that billionaire outsiders were endangering public education by getting Arizona’s legislature – in part through campaign contributions – to create an expensive voucher program.

One reason for their success in generating a movement was the fact that Arizona’s public schools are so obviously underfunded. Some classes have 40 students; schools have to ask private citizens to donate money for supplies and books.

One study foundthat Arizona, at $7,613, is the third-lowest state in public school spending per student, while another study foundthat from 2008 to 2015, school funding per pupil had plunged by 24% in Arizona, after adjusting for inflation – the second-biggest drop in the nation.

Save our Schools submitted 111,540 signatures to the secretary of state in August 2017, but the Koch brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, sued to block the referendum. A judge dismissed the lawsuit and approved the referendum for 6 November – it’s called Proposition 305. The vote will be closely watched by people on both sides of the debate as the Kochs and DeVos hope to spread the voucher scheme and opponents look to Arizona for clues on how to stop them.

Save our Schools won. 

A grassroots group of parents successfully overturned the massive school voucher expansion supported by the state’s Republican establishment, as the “no” vote on Proposition 305 won by a wide margin, the Associated Press has projected.

The “no” vote victory on Prop. 305 has major implications for the school-choice movement in Arizona and nationally, as the state has long been ground zero for the conservative issue and Republican leaders have crowned the Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion as a national template.

This is the way democratic systems are supposed to work when legislatures pass measures that conflict with the desires of the voters.

If we have public schools that are not performing satisfactorily, we need to fix them–not abandon them. And we absolutely should not be sending tax dollars to religious schools–a practice that only deepens America’s already troubling tribalization.


  1. Prof K Says
    ” And we absolutely should not be sending tax dollars to religious schools”
    Amen sister, Amen
    Not ONE penny

  2. I’ve said it before—it’s time for this issue to go back to court. Right on, Sheila.

  3. “If we have public schools that are not performing satisfactorily, we need to fix them–not abandon them. And we absolutely should not be sending tax dollars to religious schools–a practice that only deepens America’s already troubling tribalization.”

    The March issue of Americans United for Support of Separation of Church and State publication contains this report: “IND. LEGISLATOR SEEKS RELIGION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS” “An Indiana legislator has introduced a bill that would introduce religion into public schools in a variety of ways.
    Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Dist. 14) is pushing Senate Bill 373, which would require that public schools post ‘In God We Trust’ signs in every classroom, mandate that every public school offer elective courses on world religions that ‘may also include as part of the survey course’s cirriculum the study of the Bible’ and promote the teaching of creationism.”

    Is this not blatantly a conversion of our public schools to religious school status? And, if so, would this also include converting public schools, as part of religious properties, to tax exempt status?

    “Americans United Public Policy Department is monitoring Kruse’s bill and similar measures in other states. AU noted that creationism bills have also surfaced in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and South Carolina.”

    Indiana is part and parcel of “The Unremitting Attacks On Public Education”. To refer back to the paragraph I copied and pasted from Sheila; would this not require Republicans to put more tax dollars into public schools to cover the cost of added classes, teachers and materials to provide the religious courses? Would this then become an education tax “Catch 22” for their side or our’s in the states submitting such bills for consideration?

  4. Devos needs look at what religious schools have done in the mid-east for an example of why this is a dump idea. Fundamentalist Christianity ( not that one can be a trump supporter and a Christian, the two are polar opposites and mutually exclusive) has shown itself as corrupting to good social order as the Islamic Madras have been.

  5. The voucher system in Indiana has saved neighborhoods like Irvington, where parents now have a choice on where to send kids to school. Before the only choice (and a poor one) was IPS.

    The anchor school in Irvington is ICS (Irvington Community Schools) and is not religious based. But there are several other in the area like Lourdes and Scecina that are religious based, and I agree that public money should not go to a school that is allowed to discriminate.

    At the same time, I see the voucher system gutting a poorly performing system like IPS, who never really had to face any competition before and is stuck in a political morass of hanging on too much infrastructure and funding transportation to every where from every where in the city. Even the IPS district boundaries suffer from gerrymandering.

    I see good and bad in the voucher system, but unfortunaly it is just another program that disproportionally hurts poor families in poor school districts more than any one else, making things all the worse.

  6. And don’t forget the way that charter schools are dividing our communities, segregating us, and spreading our resources too thin.

  7. I wonder if your Indiana bill is an ALEC item. There’s a similar proposal here in Florida to have public schools teach religion.

    I don’t believe that the Bible is appropriate reading for young children. If you think I’m crazy, go ahead and start reading one (any version will do). Just don’t skip any passages. If you think “Catcher in the Rye” is too much, the Bible may just change your mind.

  8. I agree, Dan. The voucher system was NEVER meant to help the poor–more propaganda.

    We now have enough research on the subject to know precisely what vouchers were meant for and who would benefit from the GOP system. Surprise, surprise!

    This is political–has nothing to do with improving school systems or funding, etc.

    I’ve read several articles recently about Koch’s retooling their strategy as they begin to advocate for EdTech. We are supposed to see a kindler, gentler Charles Koch. As a parent, I’m not at all opposed to EdTech. My kindergartner is already reading at 2nd and 3rd-grade levels.

    How will the teacher’s union respond to job-killing EdTech even if it is deemed beneficial for the students?

    Institutions of higher learning will be crushed…how will the professors respond?

    As I’ve told the local union advocates, until we have a more socialist-like job market, there will not be much empathy for pockets of unionized employees.

    Bernie Sanders’ campaign staff is unionizing–first ever. Let’s hope that’s a sign of what’s to come…

  9. America is still “dumbing down” not due to Fundamentalism per se, certainly not due to Judaism or Islam but due to Christianity, the centuries-old handmaiden of Ignorance.
    The devotion to myths and denial of temporal reality result in sterile minds among those we purpose to educate. Instead we fill the time applying the “philosophy” of such as Betsy DeVos and Dyslexic Donald Trump. Our treasure goes to institutions supporting uniformity of thought and skin color.
    History is recording what we are doing. Our failure will be realized after we’re gone.
    Drain The Swamp; then refill it carefully, not with such as this disaster.

  10. How is it that churches do such a poor job of educating their congregations that they need government to do it for them? Maybe they should do a better job of training their Sunday school teachers and ministers.

  11. Nancy @ 6:59 am, excellent if depressing link. The massive lies told us by the Republicans and some Democrats about vouchers and school choice have at their core the Corporatization and Privatization of Public Schools for profit. The destruction of teachers unions is also a goal.

    I guess I do not have an issue with religion being covered in history class because religion plays an important part in history. The bible thumper’s want much more taught, i.e., that it is factual and supersedes science.

  12. How about teaching kids to THINK and QUESTION? I again refer all to that ’60’s gem: “Teaching as A Subversive Activity”.

  13. Mike S, it’s not that churches do such a poor job at Christian education. It is the ability of the alt-right to force their brand of religious education and conversion on the masses thru government. It is the mission of such zealous organizations to convert the “unclean” to their “pure” mandates and edicts. If one believes in God over country, then this isn’t such a stretch of credulity; IF you also believe that “your way” is the only way (apologies to Frank Sinatra).

  14. An educated public is the right’s worst enemy. Their only hope is to keep them stupid.

  15. Dan Mullendore, I have to disagree with you about finding “good” in the voucher system. There is no good to it, because it was created with intention of dismantling public education, which cannot be anything other than bad. Despite what we know now as far as just how horrible the Opportunity Scholarships are, Mitch Daniels and his supporters of this system knew that there would be no benefit for the public, and only satisfaction for those who do not believe in public education.

    Eliminating public schools would bring about the destruction of Teacher’s Unions, end funding of teacher retirement, allow and promote segregation, along with enriching the religious schools so many politicians pander to. The good people of Irvington have always had the option of going to a private school if they wished to, they just had to pay for it. IPS, where I taught for several years, has several great schools in the Irvington area and some that were great but have suffered under the lack of funding since 2009 that was intended to hasten the demise of public schools.

    The bottom line is this, all voucher dollars come off of the top of the entire state education budget, so the people in Pike County which has one of the poorest funded school system in the state are loosing precious funds to pay for people in Marion, Lake or Allen county to go to a private school. IPS has a painfully low budget because many who live in a neighborhood where a great IPS school exists use a voucher for their private school because they are required to take by the private school. That whole thing about the parents give the school the money is BS. Parents never see any kind of money, and could not even access the system if they wanted to.

    For decades parents have chosen to pay for a private school, because that was their choice. Now we are being forced to pay for someone else’s kid to go to a religious school and making the public school suffer. The system is flawed, its wrong and I would say is definitely unconstitutional.

  16. William Burpee,

    Correct in every way.

    There are insufficient words to describe the utter disaster Betsy DeVos is as a human being. Her nihilism and wealth epitomize her assumed white privilege. There could be NO worse person on Earth to “lead” public education than Betsy DeVos. So, naturally, that’s who Trump picked. After all, she donated 6-figures to Trump’s campaign….a purchased position.

  17. What the right really wants is a return to what the left fixed with a subversive concept called progress over many decades. What the right realized is that it didn’t work for everyone then and that was the attraction to the entitled. What they don’t realize is now the conditions that caused it to fail then are all greater, like the human population and mobility and the destruction of human habitat by climate change. Their entitlement days are over. Even the white American God can’t bring them back.

    Anyone who believes that us whites gave civil rights to other races and creeds and genders doesn’t remember history: the downtrodden demanded what was theirs and took it.

    That wasn’t the end of progress. It was a temporary accommodation and now the right is in the streets demanding their entitlements back. Betsy DeVos is their Joan D’Arc. Trump is their God and King. The Koch’s lead their House of Lords.

    We thought that we had been successful in preparing the country for the world that is now here. We were, but no longer are.

  18. Just to clarify a slight bit:

    The “no” vote on Prop 305 didn’t do away with Arizona’s already existing voucher program.

    Arizona’s existing voucher program, however, has some limits on who is eligible to get vouchers and how many vouchers can be issued at a given time. The “no” vote on Prop 305 just nullified the legislature’s having passed a bill that would have vastly expanded the number of vouchers available and would have made nearly anyone eligible to get one. Nevertheless, it was a good victory for the pro public education side.

    Not terribly surprisingly, Arizona’s Koch Brother/Republican controlled legislature is already back at it this session. Trying it’s very “best” to find someway around the “no” vote on Prop 305 so it can expand that existing voucher program to anyone who wants to use it. The “no” vote on Prop 305 only made the legislature’s goal of greatly expanding Arizona’s existing voucher program a tiny bit harder. I see much more litigation in the future. And the legislature has passed other laws, which if ultimately upheld by the courts, that make it much more difficult for citizens to get propositions on the ballot.

    And so it goes —

  19. I just wanted to point out that most of the teachers in Indiana are trained at many of the same schools of ed, and they don’t suddenly become better teachers by working for lower pay at a religious school, or a charter school, or an otherwise private school. If one only looks at test scores, the gains for students attending those schools are minimal to negligible if you take out all the other factors that affect student learning – as well as the ability of each school to choose their student body.

  20. congress should be held for dereliction of duty, today is just another day,without rules and ethics. education is a bedrock of an economy,and standards to which our next generations will run this democracy.(hopefully of it still exists) we have avid war mongers in the congress,playing the pull tabs on civil war talk, a president that feels white nationalism isnt a issue, and a senate run by a mad man who gets off on his ego,by playing demigod. but back bone lacking in the congress,and senate,so we the people are the only way to change this. maybe a change to a english style of parliment,where the PM or speaker,is thrown around the room,and jesturing or posture be damn.. at least they have to answer the question, or be jerred by fellow memebers,,verbaly,,,here,here!

  21. You’re SO right about all of this Sheila. GOP sponsors of this legislation don’t want to spend funds on public schools (or any government programs unless they’re for corporate socialism and sports arenas), don’t like teacher unions or other unions, don’t want to fund teacher retirement, but do want government to fund their own children’s tuition at private and parochial schools. Vouchers were also a lifeline to supporters whose church schools took a HUGE hit when charter schools opened and drained many urban church schools of enrollment during a recession.

    Pro-voucher legislators never considered creating a new revenue stream to finance vouchers. The funding mechanism from day one was to cut public schools to fund private schools. Their foot-in-the-door was vouchers for poor students ‘trapped’ in poor performing public schools. Vouchers now are available to
    * those with family incomes over $100,000
    * students who never attended a poor-performing or any other public school.

    The last point is particularly important. The public school never received funds for students they had never enrolled, but they lost the per-pupil funding for those students regardless. Double whammy.

    The GOP super-majorities continue to cut funding to 90% of Hoosier students in public schools to finance the 10% who attend private schools.

Comments are closed.