The GOP is attacking education in a shocking and disturbing and ominous way—Arizona is the laboratory.
“It’s part of the way of controlling and dumbing down the population, and that’s important.”
“Everyone should fight back against the effort to dumb people down and control people—it’s scary to think that the GOP is turning America into a country where people don’t have enough education to be able to resist the GOP’s legislative and cultural agenda.”
“So the new Arizona law is a fantastic and quintessential and perfect example of neoliberalism. The vision is—as I’ve written about previously—atomization for the general population and lots of society and organization and community for elites.”
“Everyone needs to fight back against the GOP’s attack on education. We can’t afford—in a pivotal period like this—to let the GOP impose atomization and indoctrination and control on the American population.”
Education is—in America—under extreme attack. Everyone should check out my 20 January 2022 piece where I interview David Detmer about education—Detmer comments as follows in the interview and note that “CRT” is short for “critical race theory”:
With the whole CRT thing you have a situation where a lot of teachers will just want to steer completely clear of anything to do with race, since anything to do with race might make some white kids feel guilty and therefore cause trouble. And the Republican efforts to ban CRT basically define CRT as anything race-related that makes someone feel bad.
So you can see that the current atmosphere pushes education more and more toward indoctrination—you can’t talk to students about certain “controversial” things.
And things got even more shocking after my Detmer interview. Take a look at my 22 May 2022 piece—teachers are literally saying that they can’t discuss certain things or else there might be actual legal repercussions, so it’s amazing that things are actually that totalitarian.
Dumbing People Down and Controlling People
There’s an interesting interview where Noam Chomsky discusses education:
I took these notes:
“Schools are designed to teach the test. You don’t have to worry about students thinking for themselves, challenging, raising questions.”
“And you see it down to the lowest level of detail. I give a lot of talks in communities and places where people are concerned about education and I’ve had teachers come up to me and say afterwards, you know, I teach sixth grade. A little girl came up after class and said she was interested in something that came up in class, and wanted to know how to look into it. And I tell her, you can’t do it; you got to study for the test. Your future depends on it; my salary depends on it.”
“And that’s happening all over.”
it’s “the obvious technique” for “dumbing down the population, and also controlling them”
“And it’s bipartisan. The Obama administration is pushing it.”
“Also, an effort to kill the schools—the charter school movement vouchers, all this kind of stuff is nothing but an effort to destroy the public education system.”
“It claims that it gives the parents choices, but that’s ridiculous.”
“For most people, they can’t make the choices; there are not any. It’s like saying everyone has a choice to become a millionaire. You do, in a way: there’s no law against it.”
regarding privatization of education: “It’s part of the way of controlling and dumbing down the population, and that’s important.”
Everyone should fight back against the effort to dumb people down and control people—it’s scary to think that the GOP is turning America into a country where people don’t have enough education to be able to resist the GOP’s legislative and cultural agenda.
Arizona’s New Law
Arizona is the laboratory when it comes to the shocking attack on America’s education system—everyone should read this alarming article about what’s going on:
“School’s out forever: Arizona moves ‘to kill public education’ with new universal voucher law” (1 July 2022)
I took the following notes on the 1 July 2022 piece:
Arizona “passed a universal school voucher bill that, once signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, will become the most wide-reaching school privatization plan in the country”—the bill “will open a preexisting program for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) up to the entire state”
the law will—in practice—“now give parents who opt out of public schools a debit card for roughly $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school tuition, but also for much more: for religious schools, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees associated with ‘microschools,’ in which small groups of parents pool resources to hire teachers”
“Anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo—the Manhattan Institute fellow who this spring called for fostering ‘universal public school distrust’ in order to build support for ‘universal school choice’—tweeted, ‘Every red state in the country should follow [Ducey’s] lead,’ since the law ‘gives every family a right to exit any public school that fails to educate their children or reflect their values.’”
right-wingers in Arizona “have advanced an array of programs to expand public funding of private schools, including, in 2011, shepherding the country’s first-ever ESA program into law, and thus launching a national model”—the 2011 law allowed “parents of eligible students who agreed in writing to opt out of public schools” to “receive vouchers ranging from $3,000 to more than $30,000”
Arizona had “passed two voucher programs” before the 2011 law—both had been “found to be unconstitutional means of redirecting public funds to private schools”, so the right-wingers developed the ESA concept “as a workaround” that would give the “public funds directly to parents to spend as they saw fit, including on sectarian schools”
the Blaine Amendments are “state-level amendments that, until another groundbreaking SCOTUS decision last week, barred taxpayer funds in most states from being used to fund religious schools”
Charles Siler—who’s “cofounder of the progressive political consultancy firm Agave Strategy”—says that the ESA program amounts to “‘a money laundering scheme to get around the Blaine Amendments’”
Beth Lewis—the “director of Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS Arizona)”—says that ESAs were from the start “presented as a solution for high-needs students who required specialized education options” and that ESAs were “systematically expanded to include group after group: students in F-rated schools, in foster care, in active-duty military families, on Native American reservations”
“‘The people who were pushing this through knew what they were doing—that they were going to expand this incrementally through sympathetic populations,’ said Lewis. ‘And it didn’t raise huge amounts of opposition because people didn’t see the game plan at the time.’”
“‘The basic sales pitch was that schools are failing, and don’t meet the needs of children,’ agreed Siler. While today Siler is a progressive public education advocate, a decade ago he worked as a lobbyist and PR staffer for the Goldwater Institute, helping other states follow Arizona’s lead in setting up ESA programs. ‘We definitely leaned into marginalized communities as much as we could. In Arizona, we started with special needs students. If we could use Black children as the face of our programs, we’d do it in a heartbeat, even though all of this is really about taxpayer-funded white flight and Christian nationalism.’”
the new law makes “every child in the state who is already in private school or being homeschooled eligible for the new funds” right away, means an “immediate cost increase of nearly $600 million”, and opens “the door for all of Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students to follow suit”
“Since Arizona pioneered ESAs in 2011, similar programs have been launched in a number of other states.”
Max Eden is an education researcher at the American Enterprise Institute—he says that ESAs “might spark the proliferation of microschools” and that microschools are a luxurious and effective way to educate kids
“Eden also suggested that ESA-funded microschools might become a boon for teachers, since educators who go freelance and successfully advertise their services to the parents of a dozen kids, could potentially ‘draw nearly $80,000 in public funding,’ amounting to a higher salary than the median public school teacher pay, even after deducting their expenses.”
critics say that “microschools and the sorts of private schools fueled by widespread voucher use” tend to “leave the quality of education students receive largely up to chance”
there was a “massive voucher expansion” in Florida and a “2017 Orlando Sentinel investigation found” that regulation was so poor that there were “schools set up in decrepit strip malls, schools that violated health and safety requirements, schools that hired teachers without credentials”—Lewis says that the “same situation holds in Arizona”
the Goldwater Institute supports ESA benefits and “even a Goldwater Institute report found that ESA benefits would only cover about two-thirds of the median tuition for the state’s private high schools”
“‘It’s very easy to set up a one-room shop in a strip mall, give every kid a Chromebook and a plaid skirt, tell parents they’re on an accelerated curriculum and take that $7,000,’ said Lewis. But it’s equally easy for those schools to ‘close up shop whenever they want,’ as numerous low-quality voucher schools have been known to do, leaving students stranded partway through the school year. When that happens, said Lewis, ‘There’s no recourse to claw those funds back.’”
“Democratic lawmakers tried to add accountability and transparency measures, including testing mandates, background checks for employees hired with ESA funds and demographic tracking to ensure the program wasn’t just subsidizing private school tuition for rich families who didn’t need it”—“none of those things made it into the final bill”
Carol Corbett Burris is the “executive director of the Network for Public Education” and she says that the ESA program’s approach has unfortunate problems—you can point to “numerous cases of fraud” where parents have “used the funds for things other than their children’s education”
“‘There are no real checks to make sure children receive the education they deserve, no proof parents have to provide that their children learned,’ said Burris.”
“Even among the vast majority of parents who would use the funds as intended, she added, ‘You have people with absolutely no education credentials in charge of students, and nobody checking to ensure the education is of any quality at all.’”
“SOS Arizona pointed out” that “the ESA funds could also be used to send taxpayer funding to the sort of private school being established by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk”—a school “with more than 600 students” is “set to open in Glendale this fall” due to a “partnership between Kirk and Phoenix megachurch Dream City” and Lewis points out that that’s “‘4 million taxpayer dollars that go straight into Kirk’s academy’”
“On a larger level, the new law also speeds up the same sort of death spiral that has afflicted public schools across the country, by steadily draining funds away from public education.”
“While the immediate cost of ESA expansion—for students already outside the public school system—will draw on Arizona’s general funds, the money to cover children who leave public schools in coming years will be deducted from public school budgets.”
“‘When that happens, especially in rural areas, if enough kids leave the system, they leave behind all kinds of stranded costs,’ said Burris. Schools will still have to pay staff and keep the lights on, but will receive substantially less support to do so. ‘Then you have a vicious cycle, where the quality of education in public schools starts to suffer, which means more people leave, and the more people leave, the more the quality of education deteriorates.’”
Lewis says that there’s an additional problem where private and charter schools want to take the “high-achieving students without special needs” and leave “higher-needs students in public schools as those schools are systematically drained of the resources to teach them well”
ESA expansion will mean “more money and even looser regulation” for charter schools that decide to become private schools
“‘We know historically that when systems are opened up for everybody, students of color and low-income students never get the long straw, ever,’ said Lewis. ‘They use this terminology of choice, but what they fail to acknowledge is that it’s the school’s choice, every time.’”
“Already, Arizona’s investment in public education is dismal, ranking second-to-last in per-pupil funding nationwide.”
“‘I think we’re witnessing the dismantling of public education in our state,’ said Lewis. ‘Will it happen overnight? No. But the effects will be felt quickly and the blow to public schools will be unsustainable.’ If even a few kids leave a neighborhood school, the difference in funding is noticeable. If six or seven do, ‘that’s a whole teacher [salary] down.’ In her own school, where Lewis teaches third grade, that sort of downsizing would mean the immediate increase of her class size of 27 students to more than 40. ‘Or do you make the cuts elsewhere? Do you cut special education, which has already been cut to the bone? Or music, arts and after-school programs, which have already been cut to the bone? Do you not have an assistant principal? Then how many students don’t get what they need?’”
Everyone knows that Arizona is just the start—there’s a lot more where this came from and we can expect to see attacks like this across the United States.
What About Letting Parents Choose?
I asked my friend about the issue of whether parents should be allowed to choose where to send their kids—there’s obviously no end to the grifting and scamming and lying from right-wingers, but it seems like a genuinely reasonable argument that we should maximize parental choice. I took notes on my friend’s response:
“If you want to hand something to unaccountable private power, first defund it so that it doesn’t work properly. Then, when people become annoyed, tell them it should be privatized—which typically makes it worse, but plenty of gifts to private pockets, which is the point. Standard operating procedure, from far back. Normal state capitalism.”
“Choices are real when people have the opportunity to make them.”
“There’s a famous satirical comment on capitalism by Anatole France a century ago: the rich man and the poor man are equally free to sleep under the bridge at night.”
“Talk about choice is mostly vulgar propaganda by which the rich and privileged protect themselves.”
“With public education purposely wrecked, the choices diminish.”
the voucher is insufficient—the voucher can’t get your kid anything that’s on par with what a properly funded public system would give your kid
“It’s not only that the voucher is insufficient. People of limited means and resources don’t have the time, the background, the extra resources required to select among the options freely available.”
“most people don’t have the time or resources or backgrounds to do the serious study” that’s involved in choosing from among the options
“And if they could find the charter schools for wealth and privilege they couldn’t afford them.”
“There’s more than tuition, and their kids could get thrown out as behavior problems—they haven’t been properly acculturated in elite norms.”
the result is as follows: “If you’re not wealthy, you have a choice between sending your kid to a collapsing public school or the nearest microschool you can afford with least expenditure of effort, because you don’t have the time or resources for anything else.”
regarding right-wingers’ success in ramming things through even when people actually just want a properly funded public system: “In every referendum these efforts go down to crushing defeat. The Republican legislature then overrides it. Then the smart guys in corporate law offices figure out ways to reword their programs so that they sound nice and friendly and conceal what is happening, and hope to do better next time around.”
And I took these notes on my friend’s broader comments:
“There’s a much more fundamental issue: what kind of society do we want?”
“Remember Thatcher? ‘There is no society’ (except, of course, for the rich). The rest should be atomized, each for oneself, easy victims for private power to exploit and to cheat. That’s the private option’s goal.”
“There’s another vision. We are a community based on mutual aid, concern for one another, common efforts to construct a decent world based on cooperation. Those are values supported by public education—incidentally, one of the great contributions of the United States to democracy and a healthy society. Kids go to the local school. They become acquainted with other with at least some degree of diversity. They study together. After school they play together. The families in a neighborhood get to know each other as the kids visit and play with others, or carry out after-school activities or joint projects with them. That leads to community—just what the rich and powerful want to destroy, for others.”
So the new Arizona law is a fantastic and quintessential and perfect example of neoliberalism. The vision is—as I’ve written about previously—atomization for the general population and lots of society and organization and community for elites.
Everyone needs to fight back against the GOP’s attack on education. We can’t afford—in a pivotal period like this—to let the GOP impose atomization and indoctrination and control on the American population.
This issue has been on my radar for a little bit. As I navigate education policy on Capitol Hill, I figured I would share a few thoughts during my brief lunch reprieve.
Fighting against the establishment of ESAs is an issue that operates on a state by state basis. ESA advocates know they cannot win on a national level, so they are going through the states. While the overwhelming majority of states oppose this policy, it surprises me that it has passed in as many states as it has. It is not just Arizona. Such legislation to a lesser degree has passed in Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee & West Virginia. A few other states have pending legislation on this matter but have failed to gain traction. Arizona may be a laboratory for ESAs with no strings attached, but ESAs as a policy have spread across the country like wildfire. It can be stopped however. A more coherent vision and stronger, more organized coalitions under the dome are needed.
This is clearly a case where an organized minority (corporate/private interests and disgruntled parents who bought their talking points) can beat a disorganized majority. The organized minority has a very clear and simple vision as to where they want to take education. This disorganized majority does not articulate their vision in the same way. I will get to that in a bit.
Think about it this way: Corporate interests are telling parents in these states that not only can they get their kids access to better quality education, but that they the parents get to keep more of their money to do so. Who wouldn't want this to be true? It is tough messaging to overcome because they are telling parents that they can have their cake and eat it too. It resonates with GOP partisan parents (predominantly in the suburbs) who believe that their kids are being indoctrinated by leftist propaganda in public schools and with urban parents in lower income areas who feel that public schools have failed them and see ESAs as the ticket to a better future for their children.
That said, There are considerable ways you can build strong coalitions and get pushback on this type of legislation. There are several demographics/groups who vehemently oppose ESAs and it can make for strange bedfellows.
1) Those already working in public schools - They oppose this for the reasons you mentioned above. I see no need to go into this in-depth. It is self-evident.
2) Rural areas - As mentioned in your article, the argument of there being choices for schools only applies to urban and a few suburban areas. Rural areas (including many rural Republicans) are well aware that this type of legislation does not benefit them at all due to their lack of educational infrastructure to begin with. There are a ton of red states that understand this and lobbyists have been able to fight back against ESA legislation for this very reason.
That said, the reason why rural GOP elected officials will get on board with ESAs is because corporate interests will strike the fear of God into them by primarying them with well funded opponents who will do the bidding of corporate interests instead. So these rural elected officials opposing the matter will either play ball or fight tooth and nail just to keep their positions against people with more resources than them. Making sure those who refuse to play ball are rewarded will go a long way in stopping this legislation from taking off further.
3) Parents who prefer public schools - These are parents who think schools are doing a good job of educating their kids and see the value in bolstering support for them. Either that or they have family members in public schools and see how hard they work to empower people. They need to be utilized more in fighting back against the parents who support ESAs.
4) Homeschool communities - Oddly enough, they despise these types of programs because they see it as a way for the government to take more of their money and disperse it to schools they do not approve of. I know this because I have had to rally isolated communities where homeschooling was predominant for past clients of mine.
I am probably missing a few, but these are the main observations I have related to this issue. It is a three step process to stopping:
1) Establish a more coherent vision - Parents are hooked on hopium when it comes to ESA messaging. It is sold as a bastion for hope for people devoid of it. Messages like "public dollars for public schools" and "this is an attack on public schools" only work in states where most people are already supportive of public schools or have strong public sector union presence. More creative means of defeating this in predominantly red states disgruntled by public schools are needed. More and more people also do not buy the idea that public schools need more money. Peoples pocketbooks are getting hit hard due to many policies you have written about before and the last thing parents want to do is give up more in taxes in hopes that public schools improve their quality of education. Public schools need to re-establish themselves as the symbol of hope for a better life. This starts with articulating a better vision as to why people should support public schools. Which leads me to my next point:
2) Communicate the better alternative to voters - It is one thing to criticize a policy, but what is the alternative? The Democrats exposed the GOP badly on the Affordable Care Act because the GOP truly had no alternative to healthcare. Voters responded by giving the Dems back the House in 2018. In this case, what is the alternative solution to ESAs? Maintaining the status quo is not what most people are looking for. Many are tired of the notion that public schools need more funding. The latter messaging works in some areas better than others, but for places where they do not buy into that notion, what is the better alternative? Depending on the make-up of their legislators, legislation to re-call ESAs could be a "Hail Mary" option. I have no idea though what the real answer to this question is. If I had the answer for this, I would probably be retired out on a yacht somewhere partying like it's 1999 and not hunkered down at a cafeteria on Capitol hill vigorously venting my disgruntlements on education policy to someone whom I have never met before on the Internet.
3) Organize broader coalitions - ESA groups are extremely well organized in their messaging and uniformity. Union presence is active in most states, but they need to cast a wider net and bring rural interests under their wing better. You need multiple angles whispering in these elected officials ears on why ESAs are ineffective. They do not want to hear from the same public sector union lobbyists over and over again, especially if those lobbyists never donated to their campaign.
Anyway, hope you found my brain dump today useful. Cheers!
TL;DR - Better messaging and organizing by those in support of public education is badly needed. ESAs are catching on, but they can be stopped.
With the new Arizona law, John Dewey must be rolling over in his grave.