Most of what’s catching the media’s attention — The Donald’s tweets and buffoonery, his latest failures as a communicator, his nuttiness and his hair — really won’t change our lives. Even his personal racism and xenophobia will fade when he’s gone.
But the policies that are taking shape behind the scenes, including the appalling ideas from Congress as they pretend to follow the will of their voters, can change the United States and democracy forever.
Way back two weeks ago, this column was concerned about privatizing the prisons. A bad idea, when fatcats can profit by locking up the poor and the immigrant. But that was two weeks ago. Today, I’m even more concerned about money and schools. Check out US Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) HB 610, the so-called “Choices in Education Act.” School vouchers — the brass ring for school privatizers — are back.
If passed, the school voucher program would work like this: The Feds would distribute funds for every school-age kid to states and the states give them to “Local Educational Agencies.” No telling whether these “LEAs” are public school districts or some newly invented entity. Then, the LEAs pass them on to parents who can use them for public, private (including religious) or homeschooling purposes.
Are there standards for schools? Do the kids need to make progress? Are there provisions for kids with special needs or special gifts? Can the school spend the money to buy an educational yacht instead of buying books and pencils?
No. No. No. and Yes.
According to 610, the state will just have to keep track of how many kids they’re collecting for and distribute the dollars. There’s no assessment, no standards, no expectations. The money can go to religious schools spouting dogma or to schools teaching traditional curriculum.
A few critics have pointed out that this bill is unconstitutional, citing the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This amendment, they say, prevents the US government from subsidizing religious schools. HB 610 gets around this by issuing vouchers to parents rather than schools. The parents, see, decide if the money will go to religious schools or not.
And, it’s unclear whether state standards will stand, including standards of what is taught, and what age children will receive each set of lessons. No more state history? No more STEM? And will that matter? If state standards are repealed or rolled over, educators will acquiesce. In the math of the present day, nobody can afford to turn down federal money.
So, I don’t know you, Dear Reader, and I don’t know your kids or grandkids, but even if they’re getting the best education on the planet, going to schools you know well and trust, when your young ‘uns get out of school, they’ll be rubbing shoulders, hiring or working with all kinds of folks. HB 610 would take money out of the public school coffers and deposit it into the pockets of private school inventors. Don’t you want those kids ALL to have a solid education?
That solid education provides for the democracy our lives depend on. And, that solid education needs money to function. As I write this, my own school district has just announced that due to state cuts they will have to scale back to teaching four days a week instead of five. And our school isn’t the only one in the state that will adopt that strategy.
But wait! There’s more! HB 610 also repeals the “No Hungry Kids” Act that made it necessary for schools to change lunches and increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk. These changes, which were unpopular at first with the lunch ladies who had to handle fresher food and also with the kids raised on pizza and corn chips, have now been seen as a benefit as the kids who started with them in kindergarten are now reaching puberty. But, in the words of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, “government sucks” and kids could be facing a future of chocolate muffin breakfasts with a side of chocolate milk.
DeVos also says “we don’t fire teachers enough” but interestingly, this bill is getting blow-back from those who have fired their teachers—homeschooling organizations—just as it’s being criticized by the rest of us. You’d think homeschoolers would love it as it offers money for education, no standards, nobody checking up. But that’s not what home-school families are worried about. They have fought for the right to stay below the radar, reasoning that rights given by a favorable Congress could be taken by a future, hostile Congress. HB 610 asks for the LEA to inform the Federal government “the number of eligible children within each local educational agency’s geographical area whose parents elect…to home-school their children.” Homeschooling associations say this will mandate that the federal government tracks their children.
So, OK, there’s something for everyone to hate about this bill but remember, friends, that this is only version one. React to it by calling your Congress people and help make sure it dies forever.
Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts Farm and Fiddle on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2017