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Jennifer Berkshire: Conservative Attacks on Public Ed Sour the Public

November 6, 2022

On November 04, 2022, the site, A More Perfect Union, tweeted a 5-minute video about Republican attacks on public education, including defunding public schools and replacing public schools with privatization via school vouchers. My colleague, Jennifer Berkshire, freelance writer and co-author (with Jack Schneider, no relation) of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School, narrates this clip, which is excellent in capturing the breadth of the issue in a brief space.

At the end of this post, I link to the video, which as of this writing is on Twitter but not yet on the Perfect Union site. Moreover, because I think that public awareness of the content is critical, I have transcribed the entire video clip, as follows:

After decades of attacks on public education, there’s a backlash brewing.

Announcer: “This is the Republican playbook on education now: to whittle away at public schools until they’re all but gone.”

While much of the national attention is on inflation and abortion rights, in Oklahoma and other conservative states, the fate of public education could swing the election in Democrats’ favor.

In Oklahoma, a state where registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by a two-to-one margin, the race for governor is in a dead heat. Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, is a big supporter of school vouchers, which take money from public schools and hand it over to religious and private schools.

Stitt: “And I pledge to support any legislation that gives parents more school choice.”

He tried– and failed– to pass a massive expansion of the voucher system this year, and he has promised to try it again if reelected.

His Democratic opponent, Joy Hoffmeister, is currently the state school superintendent.

Hoffmeister: “Here’s the problem: This governor (points to Stitt) has a school voucher scheme that is a rural school killer. You kill the school (Stitt interjects, ‘It’s not true’), you kill the community.”

She opposes the plan, and crucially, so do many rural Republicans. That’s because in rural parts of the state, there aren’t a lot of options besides the public schools. Those schools also happen to be the largest employers in a lot of small towns, which makes school privatization a hard sell. Polls show that more than 80 percent of Oklahomans think the state should spend more on public education– which means the candidates pushing plans that will result in cuts to school spending have an uphill battle.

The backlash may be enough to get a Democrat elected governor in this ruby-red state– and it could also put another Democrat in the publicly-elected superintendent seat.

In that race, Democrat Jena Nelson is leading her Republican opponent, Ryan Walters. She’s running as an avowed public education advocate who wants to boost teacher pay. He’s running as a culture warrior and a proponent of private school vouchers.

Walters: “We are going to reject calls from the teachers’ union to push ‘woke,’ left-wing indoctrination in our schools.”

And, according to polls, a fair number of Republicans plan to cross over to vote for the Democrat.

And it’s not just Oklahoma where public education has emerged as a key issue. In states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New Hampshire, Republican candidates are running on school privatization. Take Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for governor in Pennsylvania. He is best known for being a Christian nationalist and an election denier, but his education platform is just as extreme. Mastriano wants to slash school spending by half then give what’s left to parents via vouchers.

The catch?

With such deep cuts, parents will end up having to cover much of the cost of education themselves.

In Illinois, the Republican candidate for governor (Darren Bailey) wants to cut billions in school spending.

Announcer: “At a recent campaign stop, Bailey again promoted his plan to use public funds for private schools.” Bailey: “And, friends, that means educational vouchers. It is a must.”

And Bailey wants the state to fund religious schools like the fundamentalist Christian school he founded, one that uses a controversial curriculum that teaches that the majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well and that women are inferior to men.

Then there’s Michigan– where the issue of public education will likely determine who occupies the governor’s office. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is being challenged by conservative media commentator, Tudor Dixon.

Dixon is running as a culture war candidate. She says that Michigan’s public schools are indoctrinating kids.

Dixon: “Sexual content. We’re talking about pornography in schools. That’s the biggest concern that I’m hearing about.”

Dixon also has some serious money behind her.

Whitmer: “She’s bankrolled by Betsy DeVos. She has endorsed Betsy DeVos’ plan to drain half a billion dollars out of our public schools.”

The DeVoses think that Dixon is their best shot to bring private school vouchers to Michigan– something they’ve been after for decades.

DeVos: “I personally think the Department of Education should not exist.”

Poll after poll shows that voters across party lines are turned off by Republicans’ education policies. Ever since Glenn Youngkin was elected governor of Virginia last year, we’ve been hearing that parent outrage equals electoral gold for Republicans, but there’s just one problem with this argument:

It doesn’t seem to be true.

As we see in Oklahoma, Michigan, and plenty of other states, the GOP platform of dismantling public education and restricting what kids learn isn’t attracting voters but pushing them away.

The GOP’s education agenda these days is essentially that we shouldn’t have public schools. That’s an extreme position that’s out of step with voters in both parties.

So, don’t be surprised if public education turns out to be a deciding issue in Democrats’ favor on November 8th.


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One Comment
  1. John P permalink

    If you have problems with public education, then get involved. The people at the top in the Republican Party want to ignore the grassroots efforts necessary to influence public education. Go to the school board meetings. Run for the board. Review proposed texts. Stop diverting local property taxes from the public schools and augment those taxes. Private school teachers are paid less than the underpaid public school teachers. Privatization will lead to less qualified teachers and a drastic decline in the public schools, as those schools will have to enroll the high-needs students that the private schools will refuse to enroll. School vouchers is a more ill-advised platform for the Republicans than the anti-abortion platform. Time to wake-up and face reality!

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