I (JCM) have spent most of my adult life in public education. For most of those decades, privatization of public schools has been the target of the far-right, and many of their talking points have spread into mainstream politics. They have some families now thinking that public education was not good enough for their children. Homeschooling, private schools, and charter schools are viewed as viable alternatives to public education by many, thanks to conservatives’ efforts. We now have Q-Anon and Far Right Trumpist on school boards. At this moment in history they are trying to make the fabricated Critical Race Theory an issue in public schools.
Public schools serve a significant role in preparing the next generation of world leaders. So they do today, and they have done so in the past. Public education is one of the institutions that has made America great.
The cost of public education is cheap. Parents might complain about the recently added expenses of supplies and participation in sports teams. These schools are still much more budget-friendly than their private counterparts. The fees are the result of Republicans slashing budgets wherever they could for decades.
Public schools provide an education for every child in a community. By law, public schools cannot turn students away based on academic performance, income level, or disability. Public schools ensures that every student in a neighborhood has the same educational opportunities as the neighbors down the street. This is regardless of their current personal or financial situation. Since education is frequently seen as the great equalizer for society, the availability of education for all is a crucial benefit these institutions offer.
Because public schools admit all children in the community, those that attend the schools are more likely to be in classrooms with other children that don’t think, act or look exactly like them. Students are more apt to be exposed to students from different cultures or income levels. They may learn to work with other students with mental and physical disabilities. The diversity of the student body can be an essential learning experience for all of the children that attend a particular school. Far rights adherents hate this.
Public schools often have the resources to offer more academic opportunities like advanced classes and specialized subjects like technology and the arts. Options include gifted programs, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced Placement classes. Students that want to excel will find various chances to do so, while those not inclined to academic acceleration find choices at their ability level as well.
Public schools often have more options in activities after the last bell rings for the day. From athletics to music and theatre, most schools offer various extracurricular activities to keep students learning and excelling in the areas of their interest.
Occasionally, Republican strategists let the cat out of the bag and admit that vouchers–which divert public dollars to private schools–are about politics, not education.
Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and for awhile an influential Republican strategist, has long recognized the partisan value of vouchers, sometimes euphemistically referred to as “choice.”
He made the statement, “School choice reaches right into the heart of the Democratic coalition and takes people out of it,” a 1998 interview with Insight, the magazine of the conservative Washington Times. Republicans have longed to privatize public education because education is a multibillion-dollar market.
Conservatives are obsessed with the free market and believe that private is inherently superior to public. Shrinking public education furthers the Republican goal of drastically reducing the public sector. In addition, privatization undermines teacher unions, a key base of support for the Democratic Party. And, they think privatization rhetoric can be used to woo African American and Latino voters to the Republican Party.
During the last thirty years, as private-sector unionism has declined, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) have grown in strength. Today, the 3 million-member NEA is the country’s largest union. The AFT has 1.7 million members, mostly in education and health care, and the public sector.
While both teacher unions overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party, conservatives especially hate the NEA. It is larger, more geographically diverse, with members in every Congressional district in the country, and more likely to push a liberal agenda that includes social issues such as gay rights.
As the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation complained this fall, the NEA is “the nation’s largest, most powerful, and most political union.”
Conservatives tend to muffle their partisan antagonism toward teacher unions in mainstream publications, but not in conservative publications and documents.
The issue comes down to “a matter of power,” said Terry Moe, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and co-author of the book Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, in an interview with the Heartland Institute in Chicago this summer.
The NEA and AFT “have a lot of money for campaign contributions and lobbying,” he said. “They also have a lot of electoral clout because they have many activists out in the trenches in every political district. . . . No other group can claim this kind of geographically uniform political activity. They are everywhere.”
School vouchers are a way to diminish that power. “School choice allows children and money to leave the system, and that means there will be fewer public teacher jobs, lower union membership, and lower dues,” Moe explains.
Thus, the Republicans are using privatizing public education as a political weapon.
On May 24, 2021, the Arizona Legislature introduced a $12.8 billion proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022. The introduced version of the budget is similar to a draft shared last week, with a few exceptions, including more funding for the universities and for a fourth year of Career and Technical Education. The legislature began hearing the budget bills on May 25 and hoped to reach an agreement to pass the budget in the same week. However, there hasn’t been a broad agreement yet, which has slowed down the process to pass the budget. When it was clear that they were not close on an agreement, the House and Senate decided to adjourn until June 10. However, they could reconvene before that date if the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate agree.
One of the main sources of the disagreement stems from the inclusion of a significant tax cut package that would introduce a flat tax and reduce income taxes. As a part of this, the tax rate that generates revenue from Prop 208, which was passed by voters in November 2020 to raise teacher and school staff pay, would be capped at 4.5% for high-income earners and backfilled by the general fund. These tax cuts would have significant implications to state revenue in the future, which would impact the entirety of the state budget, including education.
Arizona Republicans are trying to negate the public education funding that was voted on and passed by the voters of Arizona. What is happening here? The upper one-percenters and the far-right hoarding money and working on destroying public education in Arizona. We will be fighting back.