In William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” there is a famous line, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and it is applicable to the Republican school privatization scheme they call “vouchers,” and regardless the name, the plan smells rotten to the core. There has been a concerted effort to transform America’s public education system to a taxpayer-funded private religious school scam, and last week many Americans missed a Republican proposal to destroy the public school system because they were awaiting President Obama’s State of the Union address. However, if they listened carefully to two of the Republican responses, they would have noticed the drumbeat to school privatization Republicans claimed is “all about the children.”
Just before the President’s address, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a new bill that robs “about $24 billion, or 41% of current federal spending on elementary and secondary public schools, and allow states to decide to give families the money as individual scholarships to pay for private school tuition, or to attend a charter school.” Alexander’s bill will also “give the states flexibility to design programs that would follow children not only to the public or charter school of their choice, but also to accredited private schools, tutoring centers, after-school enrichment programs and any other educational program the state approved.” Alexander said of his proposal, “There would be no better way to help children than by allowing states to use federal dollars to create 11 million new opportunities to choose a better school.”
At the same time, another Republican senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, introduced bill to “provide federally funded vouchers to children with disabilities, children living on military bases, and children living in impoverished areas” to spend where they pleased including for private religious instruction. School voucher schemes are nothing new and were dreamed up by extremists who hate public education and have been on a crusade to get rid of public schools in America once and for all.
During her official Republican response to the President’s State of the Union, Cathy McMorris Rodgers assured viewers that “We have plans (read privatization) to improve our education and training systems so you have the choice to determine where your kids go to school.” Following up on the party’s privatization narrative, Rand Paul called for solutions from “the marketplace” (read privatization) promoting “economic freedom zones” that allow for “school choice” and give parents an “educational tax credit;” because as Paul claims, parents know “what’s best” for their kids’ education. It is a favorite Republican ploy to sell privatization to the American people to “rescue” students from public schools so they can attend privately run religious schools at taxpayers’ expense.
Alexander’s bill “decentralizes authority, giving states the power to set their own policies,” and Education Week noted that Alexander and Scott’s bills “would allow states to set their own rules and guidelines for how the money would be distributed.” As one might expect, allowing Republican-controlled states to set guidelines and rules for spending taxpayer dollars meant for public schools is a disaster, and tragically the unconstitutional practice of using public money for private religious instruction is happening all across America.
For example, a report from the state Department of Education revealed that Indiana taxpayers are funding $21 million to give students a private-school education that previously had been paid by their parents. In Wisconsin, another report revealed that a $3.2 million new statewide program that sends students to private schools at taxpayer expense mostly serves children who were getting that privilege paid for by their parents. The state legislature In North Carolina recently passed a bill to divert $10 million of taxpayer money meant for public schools to private schools, including those that “provide an education that is Christ-centered” and teach “the truth of scripture” with “Bible-based facts.” Bible-based facts such as “dinosaurs and humans co-existed on Earth; slave-masters treated their slaves well; the KKK fought the decline in morality by using the sign of the cross; and gay people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are purveyors of voucher plans that claim their efforts are “all about the children,” but they are a means of spreading religious discourse and ripping off taxpayers while destroying the public school system. According to research by Zack Kopplin, there are over 300 “documented voucher schools, in nine states and the District of Columbia, which are receiving public money, and are teaching creationism in their science classes with the most creationist voucher schools in Florida with 164 schools.” In Louisiana, the statewide school voucher scheme has “at least 20 schools that use creationist curriculum that were awarded 1,365 vouchers at a cost of $11,602,500 in taxpayer money annually.”
The Washington Post found that In Washington D.C., another school system with a sordid voucher history, the lack of oversight of the district’s program lead to “hundreds of students” using voucher dollars to “attend schools that are unaccredited or are in unconventional settings, such as a family-run K-12 school operating out of a storefront, a Nation of Islam school based in a converted residence, and a school built around the philosophy of a Bulgarian psychotherapist.” WaPo noted that “At a time when public schools face increasing demands for accountability and transparency, the 52 D.C. private schools that receive millions of federal voucher dollars are subject to few quality controls. The government has no say over curriculum, quality or management, and parents selecting a school have little independent information, relying mostly on marketing from the schools.” The voucher scams are notorious for funding charter, private, and religious schools that lack accountability unlike public schools under the Republican “No Child Left Behind” program John Boehner used to close public schools and propagate underperforming charter, private religious, and taxpayer-funded voucher schools.
Like charter schools, private voucher schools do not have “any academic test score advantage” over students in public schools, and National Education Policy Center research experts examined loads of reports and determined that “even the most dedicated pro-voucher researchers have been unable to find clear evidence of superior performance by students attending private schools as part of a voucher program;” vouchers also “do not improve college enrollment rates.” The executive director of the National School Boards Association, Thomas J. Gentzel, said “The big issue is really that lack of accountability.” According to education historian Diane Ravitch, most voucher proponents are doing whatever they can to prevent enforcement of accountability such as in Indiana where lawmakers were considering banning testing for voucher schools. It is typically Republican to demand accountability for the public education system to eliminate public schools to make room for underperforming voucher private and charter schools with no accountability because they fail miserably.
Republicans are on a tear to decimate public education in America and they have a willing accomplice in the Senate Democratic caucus. Self-promoting scam artist, Republican posing as a Democrat, and ardent supporter of school privatization Cory Booker champions taxpayer-funded vouchers for charter and religious private schools and parrots the Republican mantra “it’s all about the kids.” Booker was called out by Glen Ford on the Black Agenda Report for “very much appearing to be a mainstream Democrat, but Booker has never turned his back on the private school hucksters that launched his political career.” Privatization or vouchers, it is all about robbing taxpayer dollars for public schools and handing it directly to charter, private, and religious schools as well as destroying teacher unions, public schools, and punishing women earning living wages. Women make up well over 70% of the workforce in public education and it is anathema to Republicans to allow women to earn decent wages.
Lamar Alexander’s bill is an assault on public schools that cuts 41% of education funding to hand $24 billion to private, religious, and charter schools that have no accountability to taxpayers footing the bill. The idea of giving states, particularly Republican-controlled religious states across the bible belt, free rein to direct public school money to private religious schools teaching creationism as science is an abomination that should enrage Americans that their tax dollars are being used to indoctrinate the next generation of Christian extremists determined to replace the Constitution with biblical law. Although the privatization, or voucher, scam is a gift to private enterprise, it is another well-planned assault on America by Christian Dominionists intent on controlling every aspect of society; including education. What Alexander’s bill also accomplishes is shuttering 41% of America’s schools and kill tens-of-thousands of teacher jobs that will likely target urban areas with large minority populations because it is just as important for Republicans to take educational opportunities from minorities as it is their voting rights, prospects for decent paying jobs, and equal rights that are evaporating at about the same rate as public education.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.