Home > Uncategorized > Red States Didn’t Cut As Many Services as Feared… but the Bipartisan Desire for Charter Schools Has Transformed the Debate on Public Schools

Red States Didn’t Cut As Many Services as Feared… but the Bipartisan Desire for Charter Schools Has Transformed the Debate on Public Schools

August 19, 2019

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, that suggests that the GOP has not made as many adverse inroads into public services as Democrats and progressives feared. Mr. Grossman provides compelling data on the limited ability of conservatives to impose their full  agenda at the state level, in large measure because they have to provide balanced budgets. But he misses one big point: the bi-partisan support for charter schools has transformed the debate on public education. After recounting the challenges State GOP legislators faced in trying to cut popular programs, Mr. Grossman offers this summary of the successes the GOP experienced:

Surprisingly, the biggest Republican state success stories came in partnership with Democrats. After decades of tough-on-crime policies, conservative groups joined with liberal foundations to reform criminal justice in several states. Taking advantage of federal action by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and (especially) Barack Obama, conservative legislators helped greatly expand charter schools. Early childhood education and alternative energy promotion also expanded nationwide, largely on a bipartisan basis.

Mr. Grossman overlooked a very significant shift that appears to have taken place as a result of the Democrats adopting the neoliberal idea that public schools should be operated independently of local school boards.

The bi-patrisan support for charter schools means the debate between those seeking governance of public education by locally ELECTED officials as opposed to governance by private UNELECTED boards is over. The debate is now about whether parents’ decisions about where their child attends school should be made as citizens seeking options for government funded services (i.e. charter “schools-of-choice” vs. traditional schools “assigned by the government”) or made as consumers able to choose from a wide array of products (i.e. vouchers). In short, the debate is no longer between attending the “government school” that is funded with state and/or local taxes or choosing from an array of charters approved by the local and/or State Board. The debate is now between choice and vouchers… allowing parents to take their “school tax allocation” and applying to whatever school they wish to attend— on line, nearby, or distant. It appears that there is bi-partisan support for the abandonment of the governance model that has been in place for decades whereby local communities fund schools overseen by elected school boards that their local resident children must attend. Mr. Grossman may not see this as consequential. As a retired public school administrator I do.

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