I am frequently asked why I want to be a school board member. Less frequently, I am asked why I wanted to be president of NSBA. My response to both inquiries is always the same: I believe a robust system of common public schools is the foundation of our modern, progressive, pluralistic, and democratic society.
There are, however, legislators and public officials in powerful positions who want to privatize our public education system.
I fear that if we stay on the course we are currently on, public schools will find they are educating only the children of families in the public housing system. That will be the end of our democratic society as we know it.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, in a May radio interview, responded emphatically, “Yes, absolutely!” when asked whether she was trying to use the COVID-19 pandemic to divert taxpayer money to religious schools. She emphasized that “for more than three decades [diverting taxpayer funds to sectarian schools] has been something I’m passionate about.”
For DeVos, this was not idle talk. Her recent actions speak even louder than her words. Under cover of the pandemic, she is doing all she can to help religious schools flourish at the expense of public schools. Recent legislation and U.S. Department of Education actions are enriching private schools amid the pandemic.
The $13.5 billion that Congress intended for public schools amounts to only $266 a student when divided among the nation’s 50.8 million public school students.
Unfortunately, however, the manipulation of the school funding portion of the CARES Act was only a small piece of the great private-school bailout of 2020.
For example, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is giving some private schools much more than $5,000 a student, while public schools are not eligible for PPP money.
In total, the amount of money given to religious and private schools under the PPP was about half the total that all schools received under the CARES Act, even though religious and private schools educate only 10 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren.
But, private and religious schools will receive even more because the Trump administration insisted on a provision in the CARES Act that will send another $1.35 billion to private schools.
The Trump administration’s efforts to take money out of the schools that educate most of our nation’s children in order to subsidize the wealthy should disturb all supporters of public education regardless of philosophy or party.
DeVos brought an ideology to her office, an ideology as simple as it is destructive: The government should get out of the business of education.
If we continue to undermine the democratic ideal of a free common public school system for everyone, then we will end up with public schools that serve only the children whose parents are unable to send them to private schools.
I have a request of everyone who believes that a robust public school system is the foundation of our democracy: Set aside party allegiances and research the education platforms of each candidate for all offices— federal, state, and local. Vote for the candidate that best supports public education, regardless of party.
NSBAC and NSBA’s legislative advocacy team provide many resources for researching federal candidates. I am certain your state school boards association will assist in research of state and local candidates.
Above all, please vote in this year’s election and stay well!