Last night’s GOP debate in Orlando was occasionally contentious, actually featuring some moments of real debate. But not when it came to education reform. (I’ve written about the GOP candidate field and education here.)
We saw a clear illustration of how far to the right the Republican Party has moved; how far it has moved, in fact, toward the religious right’s long-standing goal of dismantling public education:
Since the Reagan era conservatives have advocated dismantling the Federal Department of Education. In fact, that position has served as a marker for the more conservative Republican candidates to set themselves off from the moderate or “country-club Republicans” in a field of candidates. Many in the religious right, whether they’re aware of its origins or not, have embraced Rushdoony’s argument that education is solely a parental responsibility.
This view, based in a biblical argument about three sovereign spheres of god-ordained authority, holds that any involvement by government, beyond its appropriate sphere, is tyranny. For them, public education is a usurpation of parental authority. Moreover they support strategies (including diversion of funding) to foster an alternative public education with the long term goal of replacing it.
Although Republicans used to debate the abolition of the Department of Education, when asked about education in the debate last night, every single candidate espoused this position:
Johnson: abolish federal dept of education
Cain: get the federal government out of trying to educate our kids.
Bachmann: I’d sign the mother of all repeal bills and repeal federal education law. Then I’d go over to DOE turn out the lights, lock the doors
Most went further to advocate stripping taxpayers of a voice in the education system they pay for with “school choice” plans (in the form of vouchers and tax credits), in addition cutting the Department of Education:
Perry promoted school choice: vouchers charter schools
Gingrich advocated the equivalent of Pell grants for K-12
Paul says there are some things the government can do: like “giving tax credits for people who opt out of public schools.”
Romney supports “school choice” and threw in an attack on teachers’ unions for good measure
Huntsman says he’s “actually done something on this, [having] signed the second voucher bill in the United States.”
But it was Rick Santorum who gave the full blown religious right formulation:
The bottom line problem with education is the education system doesn’t serve the customer…who’s the customer? The parents because it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate the children….At some point we have…the government has…convinced parents that at some point it’s no longer their responsibility and in fact they forced them in many respects to turn their children over to the public education system and wrest control from them and blocked them out of participation from that. [this last part is garbled but that’s what he said.]
Santorum didn’t invoke biblical sphere sovereignty as such, but that framework was just under the surface of his argument: education is a parental responsibility, not a governmental one, and therefore any government involvement in it violates the god-ordained limits of the government’s authority.