Republicans ranging from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to Iowa Senators like Brad Zaun have targeted public education as enemy number one. The national Republican agenda is to starve public education of funding, weaken public education unions, destroy educators’ credibility and replace public education institutions with private schools, religious schools and homeschooling.
This is a continuation of the nationally coordinated and corporately funded effort led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC ghostwrites these model bills and invites Republican state legislators to their lavish retreats to wine and dine them. Then they persuade them to introduce the ALEC bills back home in their legislature. While Senator Zaun denies any link to ALEC, much of his legislation reflects ALEC created bills.
This year’s Republican controlled Iowa legislative session that stripped union bargaining is just the first step in their ultimate goal aimed at privatizing public education in Iowa. Senator Zaun denies he promotes the ALEC agenda but his actions mirror their goals. Zaun introduced legislation to abolish the Iowa Department of education and proposed Education Savings Accounts (ESA), another name for vouchers. Families could use the money to pay for private schools or reimburse themselves for home-schooling. DeVos has been a longtime backer of the ESA accounts for use in charter schools in Michigan. Zaun also introduced a bill to strip tenure from professors at Iowa public universities and community colleges. Zaun’s proposal parallels the ALEC creation of “Great Teachers and Leaders” bill that would end tenure. It has been introduced by Republicans in three other states as well. Pure coincidence?
On July 18-21 DeVos headlined the 44th annual ALEC meeting in Denver. ALEC’s annual meeting this month focused on weakening sexual assault reporting on college campuses, promoting taxpayer vouchers for private schools, rolling back of popular renewable energy programs, dismantling the Affordable Care Act and more.
Public education is under assault at every level by Republican zealots’ intent on destroying America’s historical commitment to public education. Their stated goal is the privatization of education. They call it school choice but the choice is to take taxpayer funding from public schools and lavish it on private and religious schools. With Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, Trump has appointed a religiously educated crusader for vouchers and private schools.
Secretary DeVos’ record shows she has been a longtime crusader of privately run, publicly funded charter schools and voucher programs. DeVos is a graduate of one of Michigan’s private Christian schools. She attended the private Holland Christian School and her children attended Ada Christian School. Mary Bouwense, President of the Grand Rapids Education Association, spent 25 years teaching in Michigan public schools and offered this perspective on DeVos.
“The Christian schools in Michigan were set up to be separate from the state, and now her (DeVos) intent is to use the state to finance them,” said Bouwense. “I know she says it’s about choice, but it’s really about funneling money to what she knows…I think her agenda is shaped by her idea of what God wants for the world,” Ms. Bouwense said.
The DeVos Family Foundation has been a long time corporate contributor to ALEC. The primary goal of ALEC is to hijack state legislatures and shape them to meet ALEC’s corporate agenda. It is funded by large corporations, right-wing foundations, and wealthy conservative ideologues, including the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, the Coors family, the Walton Family Foundation, Roe Foundation, Bradley Foundation, and Searle Freedom Trust.
ALEC’s corporate sponsored legislation subverts the democratic process by substituting the ALEC agenda in place of local states’ needs. These Republican legislators are acting as pawns for their corporate puppet masters.
Taking public tax dollars directly from the public education system and moving it to fund private schools guarantees a decline in public school performance. The result will be public schools starved for funds as their remaining student population struggles with inadequate resources. The public’s tax dollars sucked out of public schools will go to enhance elite private charter and religious schools.
Just as America’s public schools are forced to assume more costly responsibilities, they are facing increasing attacks on their funding. The Republican agenda of elitist privatization will benefit charter and religious schools at the expense of public school children. Stay tuned as Iowa Republicans are certain to introduce more corporate driven ALEC legislation come January.
by Rick Smith
Photo via Gage Skidmore