Public schools serve 90 percent of America's children. Yet lately, it seems, the system is treated as an afterthought by politicians at the national and state levels as they plot to find new ways to divert tax money to private (mostly religious) schools.
The problem starts at the top. In Washington, DC, the US Department of Education is headed by Betsy DeVos, a woman who has no experience in the field of public education. Prior to taking the job, her main claim to fame was running a right-wing group that pushed school voucher schemes at the state level. DeVos's boss, President Donald Trump, shares her hostility to public education and has proposed spending billions on a nationwide voucher plan.
DeVos and Trump are backed by an array of mostly DC-based right-wing think tanks that constantly agitate for the privatization of secondary education. These groups take it as a given that anything "public" is bad and that the free market always provides better services. They have no data to back up these claims--in fact, numerous studies have shown that existing voucher plans in the states and a federally funded program in DC have done nothing to boost student achievement--but that doesn't matter to the ideologues who champion privatization. We're long past the point where facts make a whit of difference in public policy debates.
The attempt to dismantle public education brings together two distinct strains of ultra-conservative thought. Fundamentalist Christians constitute the first, having for years carped about public schools being godless pits of socialism, crime, and amorality. Their answer used to be capturing the schools for Christ and turning them into defacto parochial schools for fundamentalism, but that hasn't worked so well because of a little thing called the US Constitution. These days, they're increasingly pushing for voucher plans that compel all Americans to pay for their parochial schools--even though these institutions are saturated in far-right theology and often parrot views that are anti-science, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ rights, and so on.
The second strain is made up of "government-should-do-nothing," anti-public service zealots who argue, with straight faces, that a modern, geopolitical state of 327 million people that leads the global economy and functions as the world's sole remaining superpower should somehow be able to get by with a government slightly larger than your average city council.
Both strains are motivated by...