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The Future of Public Education is on the Ballot on November 3! Vote!

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Derek Black, Jack Schneider, and Jennifer Berkshire wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the future of public education is on the ballot on November 3 (for the record, I got a credit for doing some minor editing).

Should Trump be re-elected, you can count on him and Betsy DeVos to continue their brazen assault on public schools and to continue their demand to transfer public funds to private and religious schools as well as to pour hundreds of millions of federal dollars into charter school expansion. Draining public dollars away from public school has been Betsy DeVos’s life work and she would have four more years to staff the U.S. Department of Education with likeminded ideologues who hate public schools.

The authors write:

When Trump selected Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, many took it as a sign that he wasn’t serious. After all, DeVos seemed to know little about public schools. But that was a product of her extremism. Over the last four years, she has been crystal clear that her primary interest in the public education system lies in dismantling it. For evidence, look no further than her proposed Education Freedom Scholarships plan, which would redirect $5 billion in taxpayer dollars to private schools.

Unmaking public education is a long-standing goal of libertarians and the religious right. Conservative economist Milton Friedman conceived of private school vouchers in 1955, and four decades later was still making the case for “a transition from a government to a market system.” As they see it, public education is a tax burden on the wealthy, an obstacle to religious instruction, and a hotbed for unionism. Rather than a public system controlled by democratic values, they’d prefer a private one governed by the free market. If they had their way, schools would operate like a welfare program for the poor while the rich would get the best education money could buy. The result would be entrenched inequality and even more concentrated segregation than now exists.

This extreme view has never caught on, largely because public education is a bedrock American institution. Many states created public education systems before the nation even existed. Massachusetts, for instance, was educating children in public schools long before tea was dumped in Boston Harbor. In 1787, the federal government explicitly mandated that the center plot of land in every new town in the territories — land that would become states like Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois — be reserved for schools, and that other plots be used to support those schools. After the Civil War, Congress doubled down on that commitment, requiring readmitted Confederate states, and all new states, to guarantee access to public education in their constitutions. In each of these foundational periods, leaders positioned public education at the very center of our democratic project.

The founders and their successors recognized that public education is essential to citizens’ ability to govern themselves, not to mention protect themselves from charlatans and demagogues. Public education is the surest guarantee of individual liberty, the founders understood — no less essential than a well-trained army to the survival of the nation. That’s why they recognized that the education of American citizens couldn’t be left to chance...

We are here to sound an alarm to Republicans and Democrats. The future of our nation’s public schools is at stake. And insofar as that is the case, the democracy envisioned by our founders — one with universal, tax-supported schooling at its core — hangs in the balance.

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