Political Animal


June 12, 2012 12:35 PM Romney’s Educational Tax Raid

By Ed Kilgore

I was remiss in not writing earlier about Mitt Romney’s big K-12 education initiative, which basically just involves taking all the existing federal money spent for this purpose and tossing it out there as a hand grenade designed for the destruction of public schools.

While the Obama administration has committed itself (to its own political peril) to the standards-and-accountability movement aimed at using federal dollars to leverage measurable improvements in low-performing public schools—a movement once championed by Republicans—Romney is moving in the opposite direction, proposing to turn over all those highly conditional taxpayer dollars to parents for use however and wherever they want, with zero accountability for results other than via abstract market forces. The primary beneficiaries, of course, will be private schools that will pocket public subsidies and do whatever they choose.

I know a lot of people, on the Left as well as the Right—think of “school choice” as a unitary philosophy, and consider the sharp distinctions drawn by Obama and many other Democrats between charter public schools and private schools as fairly meaningless. To them Romney is just going the logical next step beyond current law.

But the whole idea of charter schools is that they contract with public authorities to educate all students free of charge and be held accountable for specific levels of student achievement. Voucher systems like that proposed by Romney would eliminate any and all specific expectations. Both approaches are often considered threats to traditional public schools. But while public school choice is intended to challenge “traditional” schools to compete on a level playing field, voucher systems simply move the money elsewhere and abolish the “playing field” and most of the rules. It is a prescription for the destruction of the very idea of public education, other than as a mechanism for subsidizing private education.

Were Romney’s proposal to be implemented, it would place the power and the resources of the federal government against every state and local effort to improve public schools other than by their virtual abolition. Before long you’d doubtless see tax revolts against spending any tax dollars on education at any level; after all, why should any jurisdiction bother to tax itself simply to subsidize the private decisions of individual families to secure a service that is no longer viewed as public in nature?

Romney’s proposal is, of course, catnip to the Christian Right, which tends to view public schools as secularist reeducation camps designed to brainwash good God-fearing kids into accepting gay people and non-Christian religions and all sorts of nefarious modernism. Why not divert those tax dollars to the local Church of the Final Thunder Academy, free of those scary people of color, or better yet, to parents themselves for home-schooling? Next time you hear someone say Romney is a non-ideological technocrat who should be given a chance to see if he can somehow tune up the economy via those skills he deployed at Bain Capital, direct them to Romney’s education plan and ask how “moderate” it looks.

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.


  • cthulhu on June 12, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Not to mention any program that expands vouchers into the hands of the upper classes is effectively another unneeded benefit for the wealthy. The vouchers will never be enough for the lower classes to afford upper class private education.

  • bluestatedon on June 12, 2012 12:52 PM:

    It's a race to the educational bottom, and it seems like the best we can do is to dig our heels in and slow the rate of descent.

    It's just one of the many pernicious effects of Christianism in this country. I would bet $10,000 of Mitt's money that the overlap between fundamentalists and those who hate public education on principle is huge.

  • T2 on June 12, 2012 1:00 PM:

    "Romney’s proposal is, of course, catnip to the Christian Right" no, it's more likely a way to disguise the real aim, force kids into Mormon schools. Mormons go all over the world to find people not attached to "organized" religion and convert them to the LDS by building schools in poverty ridden areas and staffing them with young "missionaries". The next thing you know, some giant Samoan guy is playing linebacker at BYU.

  • Gandalf on June 12, 2012 1:05 PM:

    All the available data shows that charter schools have less accountability than public schools and they also have no signifiant statistical advantages in results over public schools. Oh but the good news is they make money for somebody unless like the many that just go out of business they lose money.
    For fucking crying out loud why must everything in this country generate a profit.

  • c u n d gulag on June 12, 2012 1:07 PM:

    "Wee don' knead kno etchumakation.
    Wee don' knead kno Librul thot kontrol.
    Kno darkies sarkazm 'n duh klasrum.
    Teechurz leeve them kidz a loan.

    Hay, Teechur leeve them kids a loan!
    Al 'n al ure juss noder brik 'n da wahl.
    Al 'n al ure juss noder brik 'n da wahl."

    Oh, well, I see it's THAT time in the decline of civilizations!
    Time to EAT the seed corn!
    Or, burn it.

    Kuz hoo da feck kneadz sed korn?
    GOD-ll provid!!!

  • Mimikatz on June 12, 2012 1:10 PM:

    It would turn K-12 into a paradise for for-profit schools whom would set price at the voucher level and turn out a miserable product, kind of like Phoenix, DeVry and all those other for-profit colleges that ake federal loan money and leave aspiring students with much spdebt and a worless education. The top 5% can pay for good private schools and the rest just become potential profit centers for e unscrupulous.

    What I don't understand is why businesses at keep saying they need more competent and educated workers would go along with a prescription for (even greater) mass ignorance. I guess most aren't paying attention beyond their own businesses.

    Romney is really a radical in disguise, more so even than Newt Gingrich. Everything is just one more way for someone to make money to the complete destruction of the public sphere.

  • Hedda Peraz on June 12, 2012 1:13 PM:

    I could use some of those "home schooling' dollars myself- husband # 3 needs to learn to put down the toilet seat, and #2 needs a refresher course in timely alimony payments. # 1, Lord rest his soul, is beyond schooling, but if there is any money for church schools available, the Peraz Memorial Parking Lot could use some new blacktop.

  • jjm on June 12, 2012 2:42 PM:

    This is a very good and important analysis of Romney's desire. I'm sending it around.

    It also seems to typify how capitalism right now seems to be focused on squeezing existing people, institutions, et al for all they're worth. Like Bain, this kind of move is intended to put our tax money directly into the hands of people who would then use it to force us to buy their products (double charging us, that is) while disempowering us: we won't be able to direct our education as we would like.

    In other words, there is something dying, if not already dead, in the direction that the economic system has taken and no one seems to have told those in favor of this (rather than of creativity, innovation, etc.) that you can't get blood out of a turnip.

    One other thing: when I was in high school, college and graduate school, people who majored in business were always considered the dummies who couldn't succeed at anything else. When they rose to the top of the heap, they are still not competent, really, and their method of simply sucking up whatever pools of public money or private pension funds they can find shows it. They are definitely unworthy of being the ruling class.

  • Peter C on June 12, 2012 2:51 PM:

    Market forces are a terrible mechanism to use for reform of the education system. They don't work. They are responsible for the meteoric increase in the costs of higher education.

    When markets are perfect, they funnel resources to the most efficient producers. Those producers make more (and their businesses grow) and less efficient producers make less (and they go out of business).

    But, you can't pay a teacher more and have them serve more students. Teachers have a limited and fixed capacity. Even when good teachers are forced to teach more students, they get worse.

    Schools for profit are an obscene idea.

  • Mike on June 12, 2012 3:00 PM:

    Americans despise knowledge, education, learning, facts, science, reading, books, smart people, etc, so this is inevitable.

  • Peter C on June 12, 2012 3:02 PM:

    This is 'drowning it in the bathtub', people. The uber-rich can always pay for the best a society has to offer. They never want to support things which mean opportunity for the 99%

    "Let them try 'Hooked on Phonics'", said Mitt "Antoinette" Romney.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on June 12, 2012 4:14 PM:

    I find it rather ironic that the so-called "conservatives" are quite happy to invoke the "school choice" meme in favor of expanding vouchers for k-12 education, yet seem to be quite eager to hack to pieces Perkins Loans (which have to be paid back, btw) for post-secondary education... Am I missing something?

    I guess I'm more surprised that the Goopers haven't embraced the k-12 private loan model instead. I thought school voucher recipients were just lucky duckies lookin' for a free ride. Why wait until they're 18 to damn the little critters into financial servitude? Start 'em in kindergarten, they'll learn their places in the economic hierarchy much sooner...

  • tamiasmin on June 12, 2012 4:36 PM:

    To get with the trend, I'm trying to expunge from my poor overfilled head all the stuff I learned in school and elsewhere, and become the thoroughly tractable and submissive dolt that the future demands. But damn, facts really are stubborn. Some of them have been squatting in the old pate for decades, and they just refuse to leave.

  • Greg on June 12, 2012 8:32 PM:

    Romney tried very hard here in Massachusetts to make charter schools as unaccountable as he could. Fortunately the legislature put some checks into place that at least put the charter of each school up for review every few years to check performance.

    Currently charters here in Mass cannot discriminate on their admissions, but they have no bones in pushing "difficult" kids out the door and back into the traditional systems. It's an after-the-fact form of cherry picking the better students. And even with that advantage, on average, charters still don't measure up to the public schools.