GOP "Values Agenda"- Schools Division
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings marched up to the Hill yesterday to show her support for a new $100 million dollop of school vouchers that Republicans say will "deliver" low-income students from failing public schools and allow the victims to attend private and religious schools of their choice.
From the Egypt of the public schoolroom, run by those oppressive union bosses, to the Promised Land of the church-affiliated school, run by compassionate soul-savers. That's the image they want to sell, these country club Republican friends of poor kids of color. School choice, as part of the GOP's "Values Agenda," is quite deliberately framed in biblical terms to appeal to both the white "values base" of the party and to anguished African-American parents whose children may be doing poorly in school whether or not the school itself is underperforming.
There are just three things wrong with the deliverance picture. First, the real goal of school privatization is the deliverance of middle-class and even upper middle-class families--families that can already afford private school education but that would appreciate an extra subsidy along the way. The plight of poor inner-city kids is simply placed in front of this agenda as window dressing, to give moral cover for an immoral private raid on public resources.
Second, the poor kids aren't going to get delivered, because to get the kind of help they really need the vouchers would have to be worth a lot more than they are and would have to be scaled to family resources. As it is, the best they will be able to do--assuming their parents or guardians even choose this option ("choice" being a kind of middle-class thing)--is some kind of church-centered alternative school, probably semi-militarized and quite possibly run by people who are barely educated themselves.
Third, there's no evidence that the public schools are actually "failing" as their conservative critics never tire of chanting. It turns out that public school "failure" is the biggest urban myth of all. In a report it tried to bury by releasing late last Friday, the Education Department compared the test scores of fourth and eighth graders at public and private schools; adjusting for racial, economic, and family backgrounds, this in-depth study found that public school students did as well or better than those in private schools.
Asked about this yesterday, school-marm-in-chief Spellings said she hadn't read the report her own department had produced. (Had she forgotten that reading is fundamental??) She called the report "inconclusive" and said that it relied on a small sample, even though it actually involved hundreds of thousands of students. In other words, don't confuse me with the facts--I'm here to talk about deliverance from those failing public schools!!
Oh, and there's one more thing about the privatization agenda that we just maybe ought to worry about. Last year the government doled out more than $2.1 billion to religious service providers under Bush's "faith-based initiatives" program. According to a GAO report released yesterday, the Education Department was one of four major federal agencies that declined to check on whether faith-based grant recipients discriminate against program participants based on religious affiliation. The four big agencies maintained that it would be unduly burdensome for faith-based organizations to be "singled out" for special scrutiny on this point.
In other words, who cares if religious schools proselytize on the public tab?? We're delivering these kids from those oppressive public schools!! Uh-hunh. And now, let us pray