“National School Choice Week,” a propaganda initiative created by the forces that want you to pay taxes to support someone else’s religious school, is still two months away. But some educators are already pushing back against an onslaught of misinformation.In an open letter published by the Huffington Post, Steve Nelson of Manhattan’s prestigious Calhoun School told voucher backers they’d have to campaign without him.
“You say you hope ‘schools that participate find the Week to be an enjoyable, rewarding and celebratory time.’ Is that really what you hope?” he wrote.“Or do you hope that your work, funded by the most conservative, anti-union, anti-progressive and anti-teacher forces in America, will accelerate the demise of public education in America?”As Nelson notes in his letter, National School Choice Week is funded by an array of conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party outfit that enjoys the support of former Fox News bloviator Glenn Beck.And although Nelson is a private school educator, he criticized this right-wing campaign for what it is: a direct attack on public education itself.
“We [private school educators] know that public education is essential to the future of our country,” he argued; he then proceeded to slam the very notion of voucher programs.Instead of vouchers, Nelson wrote, “Schools should be equitably funded, teachers should be cherished and unions should be appreciated for their historic role in resisting the drift toward plutocracy.”The consequences of limiting fair access to quality public education are already visible in Louisiana, now facing a Department of Justice lawsuit over its voucher program. The DOJ alleges that the first year of the state’s controversial voucher program seriously damaged the ongoing process of desegregation in public schools.As reported by the New Orleans Times Picayune, federal analysis of voucher schools revealed that the program had increased racial imbalances in schools, and in some schools, the DOJ says, racial integration had actually been reversed.In the October edition of Church & State, AU’s Simon Brown reported on this and other voucher failures. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia’s public schools are suffering from a funding drain so catastrophic that the school system found itself forced to borrow $50 million simply to stay open. $50 million is, not coincidentally, the exact cost of far-right Gov. Tom Corbett’s voucher program.At Americans United, we have always opposed school voucher programs as a means to funnel money into sectarian private schools. We don’t believe that public education should be hobbled to suit the dogmatic agenda disguising itself as “school choice.” (The term itself is a euphemism. Remember, the parents don’t get the choice – the religious leaders who run the schools do.)The truth is that it’s not really choice when students lack the ability to attend well-funded public schools. Nelson is correct to object to National School Choice Week, and he should be commended for standing alongside his public school counterparts to demand better treatment for a system that’s under attack.