Religious Right Dream of Privatized Public Education Gets Boost

The longstanding religious right goal of privatizing control and/or ownership of public education is being pushed along by the ongoing economic crisis, budget deficits, tax concerns and anti-government/anti-union sentiment. Since the Reagan Administration, religious conservatives have pushed for the elimination of the Federal Department of Education. The strategy has been to move from federal control, to state control, and then toward privatization.

That call received renewed emphasis among tea party supporters in the last election and governors elected on promises to cut both taxes and state deficits are looking to education funding as a way to keep those promises.

I recently wrote about Rick Scott’s plans to massively expand Florida’s voucher plan, which would inevitably result in taxpayer money funding religious education in Christian schools and Christian home schools. The plan would save money because the dollar amount of vouchers is lower than the actual cost of vouchers due to additional state infrastructure costs.

New Jersey Governor Christie has now announced his own far-reaching plans to transform New Jersey public education by closing “failing” schools and replacing them with charter schools. Charter schools are taxpayer funded (at least in part) but not accountable to elected school boards that represent those who pay for them. “This is the fight,” he told the audience in his characteristically confrontational style, “There’s no staying neutral. You have to choose sides.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is proposing education reforms based on the Florida model that includes public-private partnerships for charter schools, in which businesses would help fund on-site charter schools. The funding business would have a significant voice on the governing board and reserve half of the seats in the classrooms for children of employees.  

These efforts and others will be supported during the upcoming National School Choice Week (January 23-29) in which Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition (and director of  Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition during the 1990s) will be joined by other conservative leaders in an eleven-city (Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles Cleveland, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Indianapolis, Pewaukee, WI; Sacramento and Newark), “Education Revolution Tour,” the goal of which is to renew “American Exceptionalism.”

The result of these reforms is likely to be a fractured educational system incapable of serving the very purpose of public education: to ensure an educated citizenry capable of participating in a democracy. An RD commenter, frharry, to my previous post about this topic, rightly noted the danger of these “individualistic and tribal impulses”:

“Increasingly Americans are saying we do not want to be a nation, we do not want to be a single people. And without a single story, we won’t be. Without a shared set of knowledge and understandings, we can’t be. And without the resolve to remain united, we have no way to be.”

He suggested I had missed this point. I assure him I did not, but I appreciated his making it more clearly than I, apparently, had. He’s exactly right.