Public Schools

Public education is under attack. Show your support during Public Schools Week.

  Samantha Sokol

Happy Public Schools Week 2024! As an organization committed to democracy, church-state separation and inclusion for people of all religions and none, it’s only fitting that we at Americans United are also staunch defenders of public schools during this week and throughout the year. Public education improves communities, reduces inequalities, forges common experiences and strengthens American democracy. Despite these truths, our public schools are currently fending off attacks from what feels like every direction.

Before we get into these attacks, let’s highlight a key aspect of what makes our public schools so great: public schools are open to and must serve all students. Our public schools educate every child who comes through their front doors, regardless of economic status, disability, religion, race, ethnicity, English fluency, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, family status or any other personal characteristic.

Americans rely on public education

In doing so, our public schools forge common experiences among a wide range of students: 90% of American students attend public schools. While it is true that our public schools, like the communities we live in, are not entirely desegregated, our public education system is one of the institutions where we are most likely to encounter, interact with and get to know people of different races, religions, political views and socioeconomic backgrounds. In today’s polarized environment, public schools play a more important role than ever in promoting unity.

But unfortunately, those who wish to divide us and undermine our unity are relentlessly attacking public schools. Here are four of the most dangerous attacks we are currently facing:

Anti-public-school forces are sowing mistrust in public schools: Using marginalized communities as scapegoats, they are crusading against diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools. They are barring any classroom discussion of diversity, gender, sexual orientation, our nation’s history and race, and are censoring school library books. They are attacking LGBTQ students, educators, and families, as well as students and educators of color.

Anti-public-school forces are undermining the religious freedom of public school students and teachers: State legislators are passing a variety of bills that unconstitutionally promote religion in public schools, such as by allowing teachers to pray with students or conscripting religious chaplains to replace school counselors. Every public school student should feel welcomed and included at school, regardless of their religion or beliefs, but these efforts undermine that goal.

Anti-public school forces hope that their divisiveness and mistrust campaigns will cause Americans to sour so much on public schools that they can defund them through private school vouchers: Vouchers divert desperately needed public resources away from our public schools to fund tuition at private, mostly religious schools. Private school voucher proponents are on a rampage, establishing universal vouchers in nine states and expanding programs in many others. Let’s be clear: private school vouchers don’t work: they decimate student achievement, lack basic accountability and oversight standards, fund discrimination, and harm religious freedom.

Anti-public-school forces are seeking to create publicly funded, religious charter schools that discriminate: Like our traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools have always been public schools, so they must be secular and accept all students. But there is now a plan to create a public, religious charter school in Oklahoma that will discriminate against students and staff and indoctrinate them into one religion.

Show your support for public schools

In 2024, we are seeing all of these combined efforts, and more, to undermine our public schools. Americans United is committed to fighting these attacks on inclusive public education, whether they be book bans, anti-LGBTQ mistrust campaigns, private school vouchers or religious charter schools. We are advocating in Congress and the states, bringing lawsuits, organizing communities, and raising awareness.

This Public Schools’ Week, you can join us in this fight: Act now to remind your lawmakers in state legislatures and Congress that they should not drain money away from public schools through private school vouchers.

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