Weak Week: School Voucher Boosters Launch ‘Choice’ Propaganda Drive

'School Choice Week': a week-long cheerleading session for vouchers.

It’s “School Choice Week.” This event was drummed up by a coterie of sectarian interest groups and right-wing ideologues that don’t like public schools and want to replace them with taxpayer-subsidized religious and other private schools.

Of course, school choice boosters don’t come right out and say that. They pretend School Choice Week is about all kinds of “educational choice” – everything from charter schools to homeschooling. Lurking behind the curtain, however, is an uncomfortable truth: This is mostly about vouchers.

But again, the promoters of School Choice Week don’t want to admit that. They treat the “v-word” like it’s radioactive – maybe because polls and referenda repeatedly show that it is. Their arguments have been focus group-tested for maximum effect. Consider the use of words like “choice” and “scholarship.” They sound so positive. We all like having choices, right? And who wouldn’t want to get a scholarship?

The problem is, parents and kids really don’t get the choice when it comes to private schools. The administrators who run the schools do. A stack of vouchers – I’m sorry, “scholarships” – reaching to the moon won’t get your child into a private school if that school decides that it doesn’t want to enroll her.

And the reason it doesn’t want her can be lots of things: Your child is the “wrong” religion. You’re part of a same-sex relationship or are divorced. Your child didn’t do so well on an admissions exam. Your child has special-education needs.  You haven’t been to church lately. You don’t live a “biblical lifestyle.”

We need to cut through the euphemisms. At the end of the day, this is a week-long cheerleading session for vouchers. And vouchers are just a scheme to force the American taxpayer to support private religious schools.

Some of the stunts the supporters of School Choice Week came up with are kind of cheesy. A free concert was headlined by the Jonas Brothers. (They’re still around?)

But pop stars aside, it looks, unfortunately, as if 2013 is going to see a number of high-profile voucher battles. That may include the U.S. Congress. Today’s New York Times contains a front-page story about efforts by U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, to revitalize the Republican Party. Among his ideas is a nationwide voucher plan. (Someone should tell Cantor that the American people don’t support vouchers.)

Several states are being targeted as well. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to unveil a voucher plan tonight. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is pushing to expand that state’s current voucher program, even as the state supreme court deliberates the legality of the scheme.

Gov. Scott Walker is advocating an expansion of vouchers in Wisconsin. Action is expected in Texas, Maine, Mississippi, Alaska and other states as well.

With all of this activity going on, it’s a good time to take stock and remember exactly what’s going on here: This is an effort to shift scare tax resources away from the public schools – a system that by law must educate all comers and that is accountable to the people – to religious schools that can deny admission to young people for all sorts of reasons, are free to discriminate on religious grounds in hiring and are free to teach pretty much whatever they want.

This last point is important. Many fundamentalist academies teach creationism in lieu of accepted science and “Christian nation” claptrap instead of actual history. They disparage LGBT Americans and in some cases boast about how their primary text is the Bible (more accurately, their narrow interpretation of the Bible).

Many Roman Catholic schools, especially those affiliated with the more conservative wing of the church, still teach anti-women views, propagandize youngsters on issues like abortion and gay rights and integrate doctrine into any subject they want.

Now, to be clear, these schools generally have the right to do these things. But they have no right to demand that you pay for the propagation of such views. The clergy who run private religious schools often brag about how they use these institutions as instruments of evangelism. That’s exactly why the people sitting in the pews, not taxpayers, should pay for them.

Americans United has put together a number of resources to counter “School Choice Week.” Visit the page here. Take these the resources and use them to debunk common arguments of the anti-public school brigade.

PS: Americans United will be tweeting a lot this week on school vouchers. Follow us on Twitter for more information. Check us out on Tumblr as well.