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Jeff Bryant writes in Alternet about the renewed strength of the voucher forces, which have been energized by Republican gains in the states in the 2020 elections. They aim to defund the public schools that enroll most children and send public money to private and religious schools, even to home schoolers and entrepreneurs.
Supporters of public education and school teachers were relieved to see Betsy DeVos leave her job as head of the Department of Education, knowing full well the education policies she and former President Trump supported would go nowhere in a President Biden administration. But they should remain incensed over how her efforts to privatize public schools are being rolled out in state legislatures across the country.
In states as politically diverse as Washington, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, and New Hampshire, state legislators are introducing bills to increase the number of charter schools and create new school voucher programs or greatly expand current ones. According to the Educational Freedom Institute (EFI), a think tank that advocates for vouchers, charter schools, and other forms of “school choice,” there are at least 14 states actively considering legislation to pour greater sums of taxpayer dollars intended for public education into privately operated schools. Many of the bills have been introduced since the November 2020 elections, which ousted Trump and DeVos but resulted in big gains for Republicans down-ticket.
These proposals to privatize public schools are taking on new forms that are less transparent, would be easier to pass through legislation, and take larger sums of money from public schools, which educate between 80 and 90 percent of American children. Further, the bills are surfacing when public education is highly vulnerable due to the pandemic and the ensuing economic havoc it is wreaking.
Supporters of public education and the common good must mobilize and push back against efforts to weaken and/or destroy the public schools. Republican legislators are ignoring their own state constitutions, and the historic American tradition of separation of church and state by pushing public money to religious schools. Their obvious goal is to cut funding to education, and they don’t care if it reduces the quality of education in their states, as it surely will. Religious schools and the other private schools that take vouchers hire uncertified teachers, are free of state oversight, and teach prejudice.