About That War On Education

Far-right Republicans have been very candid about their war on higher education, as I have previously detailed. The party’s activists have been less open about their continuing effort to destroy American public education, and to re-direct public money to the private, mainly religious schools that teach from a perspective they prefer. (As with so many of the Right’s accusations, projection is obvious; claims that “government schools” are indoctrinating–“grooming”–children reflects their own intent.)

A recent article in the New Republic suggests that the Right is winning its war on public education. The article began with a report on the Congressional testimony of one Lindsey Burke.

Burke, an education policy program director at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was responding to a question from Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman, after Burke had spoken in favor of “school choice.” Allowing parents to use public education funds to send their children to private schools—including religious schools—was, she argued, merely a way to enable families to “choose learning environments that are safe, and effective, and reflect their values.”

Heritage is one of a number of Rightwing “think tanks” and organizations dedicated to defunding public education–mostly through educational vouchers and similar mechanisms that they claim will “restore parental control” over education. Parental control is increasingly the  “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 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.”

Think about the messaging: calling public schools “government schools.” Talking about “parental choice” and “Christian values.”

It isn’t just coincidence that these “Christian values” warriors focus inordinate attention on trans children (a vanishingly small percentage of the nation’s children, but an unfamiliar population and thus an excellent target for bigots). Rightwing activists are demanding 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….

As a tool of gender conformity and as a moral panic about the content of public education, these policies hit a sweet spot for the right—which may explain why more established conservative groups are stepping up to promote and defend them.

The article noted what has become increasingly obvious– the Right’s effort to eradicate public education is “inseparable from their accelerating attacks on LGBTQ rights and racial justice.”

Perhaps there is no better symbol of that intersection than Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who has boasted about writing the playbook: moving from using critical race theory as a rallying cry for white grievance against schools, then similarly promoting accusations that LGBTQ-inclusive schools are “grooming” young people. Rufo revels in “laying siege to the institutions” as strategy, as he said in a 2022 speech at the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan. “We go in there and we defund things we don’t like, we fund things we do like.”

The linked article explores the effort to “defund” public education in much more depth, and I encourage you to click through and read it in its gloomy entirety.

In Indiana, the effort to help parents escape those nefarious “government schools” is succeeding; a growing number of children are using Hoosier tax dollars to attend  voucher schools–over 90% of which are religious.

Tribalism, anyone?

The next time you hear a self-proclaimed conservative bemoan “identity politics,” you might point out the way vouchers divide Americans.


  1. Is there any group/ organization in Indiana that is working to put an end to the voucher system? Really working and not just using the issue to gain political support?

  2. Good question, Theresa. We have to fight fire with fire hopefully before our hair is on fire!

  3. If you are interested in knowing the amount of tax dollars stolen from your local public school corporation that has been sent to private schools you can find that info here: Drphildowns.com

    The education portion of your state income taxes does not all come back to your local or county schools. The state divides it up in a formula that ends up sending some of it to schools that are nowhere near where you live. From Dr Downs’ spreadsheets I learned that in the most recent year he has data for almost $400,000 of local tax dollars was taken from my area school system to be distributed elsewhere. I live in a very rural county and that is a lot of money that our local schools need.

  4. Theresa – yes, there are people working to fight the voucher system. They’ve been fighting it for years, but the legislature not only won’t budge, but they continue to give more money to wealthy families that have easily been paying out of pocket for private schools.

  5. Here is a list of resources that was sent to me by an attorney that is involved in fighting the IN voucher system.

    K-12 School Policy

    Steve Hinnefeld’s blog. https://inschoolmatters.wordpress.com/ (Posts for over 10 years trace history of what’s happened on a state level, and current situation.)

    Indiana Coalition for Public Education. https://www.indianacoalitionforpubliced.org/

    ICPE Fort Wayne area affiliate. https://m.facebook.com/ICPENortheast

    NEIFPE. https://www.neifpe.org/p/neifpe-executive-committee.html. (Fort Wayne area)

    Book. https://thenewpress.com/books/wolf-schoolhouse-door

    Podcast. https://www.haveyouheardpodcast.com/

    2017 3-part Washington Post series on efforts to privatize public education in Indiana. Analysis | A telling story of school ‘reform’ in Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana
    Betsy DeVos and her family played a part.
    By Valerie Strauss


    Download The Washington Post app.

  6. EVERYTHING REPUBLICANS TOUCH DIES. Why? Because the hired politicians from corporate/banking America tell them to kill anything and everything that helps working people and benefits their lives.

    VOTE OUT EVERY REPUBLICAN BEFORE THEY DESTROY THE NATION. Clearly, they will destroy democracy one school board at a time.

    How could so many people have swallowed the lies produced daily by this level of idiocy?

  7. Tribalism works so well if you are in the arms industry or the business of Republican politics.

    I watched the last Iowa Republican Debate on CNN last night. It was a hate fest. DeSantis and Haley stumbled over each other, describing who voters should hate and blame. The list was endless. They finally settled that only people who support each other (one of them only) are good. The rest are wrong.

    Of course, they blame their hate on “voters” who demand that political service and will only vote for the worst hater.

    I suppose those voters ultimately blame their hate on politicians who told them to.

    A circular firing squad.

    Unfortunately, democracy and freedom are at the center.

  8. As this movement seems to be newish, gathering steam over the last 25, or so years, I gather, most of the country’s, dare i the vast number of people in the country, have experienced public education, and those people would then be those who made “America Great” in the first place, right?
    Obviously, this movement has nothing to do with but with keeping future adults unable to engage in critical thinking. They would be easier to control, that way.
    Vernon, you absolutely nailed it!

  9. A little just on the edge of this topic. Indiana passed a number of anti-trans bills last year, including a withdrawal of affirming medical care from trans kids. Fortunately Indiana is in the Seventh Circuit of the Federal Appellate Courts which has been supportive of trans kids rights in schools since 2017 when they ruled that a Wisconsin school district must call trans students by their preferred name and gender, and allow them to use the restroom of their choice, and fined the school districtr $800,000. This year they have ruled the same for schools in Terre Haute and Martinsville (I don’t konw about fines in those cases), and also supported the dismissal of a teacher in the Brownsburg schools whe refused to call trans kids by their preferred name. The only two bills still standing from what were passed in Indiana are a no trans related care for prisoners in Indiana prisons, and a parent notification law. The parent notification law is especially ridculous, because the word will quickly get around the schools, and then no kid who isn’t sure their parent(s) are supportive is going to tell the school system anything. And that means what little bit of support they were getting from adults for their issues are going to go away. Just in case you didn’t know, forty percent of homeless kids are LGBT.

  10. “…calling public schools “government schools.” Talking about “parental choice” and “Christian values.” The GOP and its enablers on the Far Right, not to mention the MAGA extremists are adept at controlling the narrative. Democrats need to do better; we have the far better substantive arguments, without a doubt, on public education and much else but we need to have the words that connect to the values. Not easy but necessary.

  11. And…to see how well (very) our public schools really do work at being successful for ALL Hoosier students go to http://www.ourpublicschoolswork.org It’s a new non-partisan positive organization dedicated to honest public schools which shows how good Indiana schools really are despite the obstacles thrown in their path. Please go to the website and refer your friends.

  12. And what, pray tell, is wrong with “gummint schools?” Government as a neutral force in education other than funding is the way to go. Parental choice is a good-sounding cover for the right to insist on funding of religion in schools but violates the doctrine of church and state. Likewise, rewriting history and curriculum by preachers rather than educational experts short-changes both student and their “parents” as demonstrated by educational outcomes.

    If Catholics, Lutherans and others want a system that teaches religion in school settings, fine; but they should pay for it, not taxpayers, and not just because of the church-state no-no our Founders envisioned. It is also a no-no because with the enormous increase in knowledge to be learned these days (including the social upheaval predicted by AI) we don’t have time or space to add such Mid-East history to a crowded and relevant curriculum.

  13. This isn’t that new – Old quote attributed to Karl Rove:
    “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans – unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing”.

    As for me, I happily pay taxes and support public schools even though I have no children.
    I resent paying taxes to support religious indoctrination. If you want your children to have that education, pay for it.

    I personally favor the more balanced approach used by my family (mirrored by the family of a muslim friend from London) – interact with everyone in public school and get a religious education later (after school or weekends). Our families paid for the religious education, not the taxpayers. My friend and I are both knowledgeable about our religious/cultural heritage, and comfortably interact with people from any background.

  14. Will the Martinsville middle school bathroom case be heard at the Supreme Court? We’ll find out this year. The district has the most winningest Supreme Court case lawyer representing them.

    As a member of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, thank you to ALL who pointed our group out. Legislative session has begun and it’s going to be intense. Our lobbyist already testified on HB1002 last week and will be back this week and the following weeks. I know many of you are already members. Be sure to join us if you haven’t joined us already. Be sure to renew annually. Be sure to tell your friends and family. We are grassroots. We are supported by Hoosiers. https://indianacoalitionforpubliced.org/join/

  15. The two groups that have fought governmental funds for parochial schools for decades are the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) and their national affiliate – the National Education Association (NEA) – and the state and national affiliates of the ACLU. PTA and the state and national organizations of public school principals, school superintendents, School Boards and a number of mainline church denominations also have long opposed ‘parochiaid’ as it was known long before vouchers came along. As noted above, others have joined this battle in subsequent years.

    Parochiaid was originally intended as direct aid to private religious schools. Vouchers were deemed constitutional because the government funds were ‘laundered’ through parents and didn’t go directly to the private schools. Laundering funds in other illegal endeavors is viewed with disdain by our courts. It should be illegal for vouchers as well.

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