Political Animal


April 03, 2013 11:28 AM More From the Department of False Choices

By Ed Kilgore

Since we’ve been talking about Bobby Jindal’s private school voucher program (which is currently facing a review of the constitutionality of its funding mechanism by the Lousiana Supreme Court), which isn’t getting rave reviews in Louisiana, I wanted to mention Michael Gerson’s triumphalist op-ed in yesterday’s WaPo about the majestic and invincible progress of an ever bigger voucher program through the courts of the Hoosier State:

The school choice movement — which germinated 50 years ago in free-market economist Milton Friedman’s fertile mind — recently counted its largest victory. The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the state’s school voucher program. Under it, more than half a million low- and middle-income Hoosier students — and about 62 percent of all families — are eligible for state aid to help pay for a private or religious school.
This is what school choice traditionally has lacked: scale.

Though Gerson cannot bring himself to use the words “charter schools” or “public school choice,” he does allude elliptically to “limited choice” options in education, which are bad because they don’t directly take on the satanic forces of education unions and bureaucrats. The other word he doesn’t use is accountability, once the favorite word of conservatives when it came to education policy, but now a complete no-no. Accountability to the public for the use of public funds, the very definition (along with full and equal access) of what makes a public school “public,” would exclude vouchers that just shuffle taxpayer subsidies to private schools to keep on doing what they do, whether it’s good education or bad, or evangelical madrassa-style instruction in the evils of science and secularism—not to mention public schools.

Gerson’s too smart not to know that he is deliberately telescoping the education policy debate and in the name of his own definition of “choice” creating a false choice between backpack vouchers with zero accountability for results (other than to parents, sometimes under the divinely-appointed servant-leadership of Father Frank or Pastor Bob) and the worst stereotypes of old-style public schools with poor funding bases in the most troubled neighborhoods. What really infuriates me, though, is to see conservatives who fought so long for high-stakes testing and educational quality measurement throw it all away at the very moment America is about to undertake the most sweeping accountability reforms in history, the “common core standards” initiative, just so they can get taxpayer subsidies for religious schools, and/or strike a mindless blow against teachers unions.

As Gerson’s op-ed shows, conservatives are on if not over the brink of abandoning all interest in public education improvement and thinking of public schools as “government schools” that should be junked along with Medicaid and food stamps and all that other socialistic claptrap. They should at least be honest enough to admit how deeply reactionary this trend actually is, and stop calling it “reform.”

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.


  • c u n d gulag on April 03, 2013 11:41 AM:

    Mr. Gerson writes, "...which germinated 50 years ago in free-market economist Milton Friedmanís fertile mind..."

    Uhm, no, not exactly.
    Generations from now, people will see that this horrible idea was hatched in the SLAVE-market economist Milton Friedman's sh*t-filled soul.

    Ignorant and/or stupid people make great wage slaves - unless, of course, even better, you can convince them that wages are marks of SocialFasciCommuniAtheism.

    But, of course, Fascism was Friedman's ideal economy - as long as he wasn't part of any of the "Slave Labor."

    And I'm sure all of the Christianista schools will brainwash the about-to-be really, really, dirt-poor students, that Jesus LOOOOOOOOOVES him some poor people, and that their abject poverty will provide them with
    the quickest way to Heaven, and a seat at the right hands of God and his Son.
    The less you make here, the greater will be your reward in Heaven!

    Let us pray for the "Slave Creato..." uhm... Make that, "Job Creators."
    And so what if the jobs don't pay?

  • Mimikatz on April 03, 2013 11:45 AM:

    It bears repeating again and again. As the consumer is tapped out and defense gets cut, education funding is the last big honeypot in America, and it is attracting all kinds of con artists disguised as "entrepreneurs" in an unholy alliance with religious zealots and right-wing ideologues battling for the souls of young people. If we lose public education it really will be the end for our democracy.

    And just how is it that these kids receiving little better than home schooling are going to compete with better educated people for the jobs that remain? Although Gerson is too smart to disavow science, he has joined the team that includes those folks along with corporate predators.

  • c u n d gulag on April 03, 2013 11:54 AM:

    Don't forget that Gerson works for the WaPo, on it's atrocious Op-ed page(with a couple of exceptions), and that the corporation is now more reliant on it's privatized education programs, than it is on subscription and advertising.

    And then they sit around in boardrooms, and wonder why no one reads their paper anymore?

  • jim filyaw on April 03, 2013 12:06 PM:

    a lot of words come to mind at the mention of gerson's name, but 'smart' isn't one of them. smart people don't consistently come up with dumb conclusions.

  • golack on April 03, 2013 12:14 PM:

    Public schools works when parents are directly involved...in a good way.

    If people want it to work, they can make it work, as long as appropriate resources are available.

    Remove neighborhood schools, remove involvement (especially for grade schools). Consolidate everyone into mega-schools, kids and parents become just another number.

    De-fund public schools and provide an escape route for the rich...one way to lock in the advantages of wealth.

  • David Patin on April 03, 2013 12:19 PM:

    If you live in Indiana like I do itís quite an exciting time as this great conservative field experiment unfolds. Will the ďmagicĒ of the marketplace create good schools for all income levels? Or will it create a great inequality with good schools only for the well to do and mediocre to bad for everyone else?

    That I can see it as exciting is, of course, because I no longer have children of school age.

  • lou on April 03, 2013 12:42 PM:

    Slammin the de enlightenment pedal to the metal. Add militia training and shooting lessons to their theological curriculum and you get the whole can of whoopass on pagan librul culture.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 03, 2013 1:05 PM:

    I guess it will come as terrible shock to the RighteousRight when China and other furrin communistic/soshlist countries are seriously kicking our asses all over the place in a generation or two (if not sooner).

    And re the accountability bit. Yeah, "school choice" is pleasant in the general sense, but I don't think individual families should be allowed to spend tax-payer dollars on any building with a dry erase board that calls itself a school. If those "schools" want public money via vouchers they should be operating to address the minimum concerns of the general public, not just whatever sect of kooks it claims to represent.

    You'd think that the right would appreciate this argument, what with all their screaming about those food stamp recipients who allegedly eat caviar and filet mignon every night. But accountability is for those people, I reckon. Kick rocks...

  • low-tech cyclist on April 03, 2013 1:06 PM:

    Until recently, the only place I had run into public schools being described as "government schools" was in the ravings of the religious wingnut columnist Cal Thomas.

    Scary to see ideas like this go mainstream.

  • gratuitous on April 03, 2013 1:31 PM:

    I see a basic error in a priori assumptions here, which is that the "school choice" movement is interested in educating young people in our society. Mimikatz' characterization of schools as a honeypot is an accurate description of what the charlatans and mountebanks perceive the school systems to be.

    As long as they're looting the funds set aside for education, every other consideration falls further and further down the priority list. Little Johnny can't read? Tough toenails. His parents should have chosen a better school, instead of being duped by a flashy ad campaign. Better luck next time, and yeah, those crucial learning years are gone forever for Little Johnny, but them's the breaks, kid.

    And don't even *think* of suing the job-creating entrepreneurs who worked so hard to fleece the system.

  • jsjiowa on April 03, 2013 3:15 PM:

    I don't know if this is representative of all rabid right-wingers, but there's one on my Facebook feed who lives in Texas who cannot frequently enough condemn the common core (right along with criticizing critical thinking skills). Maybe there are some conservatives who still believe in accountability, but ideology and theology seem far more important these days. Better to indoctrinate those children against any kind of liberal thinking...