Political Animal


February 20, 2012 5:25 PM Getting the Government Out of Public Schools

By Ed Kilgore

What with his attacks on the president for advancing “phony theology,” and on Mitt Romney for seeking government “bailouts” for the Olympics, Rick Santorum got less attention for his assault on federal and state involvement in public education during his speech to the Ohio Christian Alliance over the weekend.

Those who did notice generally accused Santorum of attacking the very idea of public schools. I have little doubt Santorum is blowing a dog-whistle to home-schoolers and those who think education should be privatized (with or without public subsidies). But he did not, for the record, say he opposed public education: he just said the federal government and the states should have minimal involvement in education generally.

There is however, a pretty substantial overlap between what Santorum said and meant and what he was inaccurately accused of saying. Federal and (especially) state involvement in public education is what makes it possible for public schools to operate in the low-income communities where public education matters most. Overall, federal and state governments provide over half the revenues of K-12 public schools in America. And in poorer areas of the country, inadequate local revenues are only partially offset by higher federal and state education funding.

Santorum did vote in the Senate for No Child Left Behind, which was aimed (inadequately) in part on equalizing educational opportunities through federal dollars. But he now seems to be hell-bent on restoring the maximum degree of educational inequality, and his heretical voting record may actually push him in a direction more reactionary than the one he has embraced in the past.

Rick hasn’t quite called for getting the government out of public schools, but he’s getting close. Public subsidies for sectarian schools strike him as making sense. So, too, does submitting to parents and “neighborhood” authorities for use of public education funds. He’s a solid symbol of the devolution of Republican “thinking” on education policy since George W. Bush took office in 2001.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on February 20, 2012 5:42 PM:

    I guess it's pretty simple....the dumber people are, the more likely to vote Republican.

  • DRF on February 20, 2012 5:47 PM:

    Are you suggesting that Santorum is in favor of purely local (i.e., city, county or township) control of public schools? I don't think that's what he meant, but if it is, it's just about the stupidest idea to emerge yet in the Republican primaries.

    To put educational standards and curriculum in the hands of local school boards, which consist entirely of amateurs with little or no professional educational backgrounds, is insanity. And does Santorum really believe that standard should differ from town to town?

    I think that Santorum was, in fact, criticizing the notion of public education altogether. Either way, this guy clearly isn't qualified to be President.

  • arkie on February 20, 2012 5:52 PM:

    But the Founding Fathers said that the Federal Government had a role in funding public schools:

    "The ordinance was also significant for establishing a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships[citation needed], although a great many of the school sections were sold to raise money for public education. In later States, section 36 of each township was also designated as a "school section"."


  • SYSPROG on February 20, 2012 6:31 PM:

    Pretty funny when you consider how he soaked the big bad GOVERNMENT for home schooling funds for his hoard. Especially when you consider he soaked Pennsylvanna and was living in Virginia. I guess you only get to use funds when you are an ex-Senator that is a liar and trying to keep poor people uneducated.

  • exlibra on February 20, 2012 7:03 PM:

    I have little doubt Santorum is blowing a dog-whistle to home-schoolers and those who think education should be privatized (with or without public subsidies). -- Ed Kilgore

    Definitely *with*. What he wants out of the govt is the money, without the contaminant of ideas that might collide with his own.


    There may not be any contraceptives in Karen Santorum's medicine chest, but I suspect she has a sizable stash of nightshade there, which she slips, daily, into Rick's good-night cocoa. The man is progressively sounding as if any moment he might start frothing at the mouth, too.

  • hells littlest angel on February 20, 2012 7:23 PM:

    Santorum is on the record as being for income inequality in America. What better way to foster income inequality than to get the government out of funding for public education?

  • g on February 20, 2012 9:24 PM:

    He sure as hell didn't mind having the state of Pennsylvania pay to educate his kids - even when he lived out of state.

  • Patango on February 21, 2012 12:38 AM:

    He said he is upset that the government controls schools and our kids while we the people living in the communities do not, it is more pie in the sky thinking of conservatives , what public entity is stopping people from being involved in their children's education?

    And the crowd cheered away , the crazy stuff this GOP nazi comes up with on the campaign trail is what he wants all the kids taught , and more of course....

  • anandine on February 21, 2012 8:38 AM:

    One implication of this is that rich areas would have rich schools, and poor areas would have poor schools, QED.

  • imjustsayin on February 21, 2012 11:16 AM:

    "...Santorum got less attention for his assault on federal and state involvement...". The Democrats would be foolish not to flood the media this fall exposing the Republicans hypocrisy in some creative ad campaign demonstrating their vision for our country is to create a new DIVIDED STATES of AMERICA. Whereas, Obama's vision is to unite the political division and rebuild the UNITED STATES of AMERICA.

  • rdale on February 21, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Any excuse to trot out this clip about home-schooling from the movie Mean Girls: