Do supporters really say they want to dismantle public education?

posted Jan 10, 2012, 7:31 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Mar 26, 2012, 12:17 PM ]

HB 1607 and SB 372, the Education Tax Credit (school voucher) bills state their purpose as to:

“Allow maximum freedom to parents and independent schools to respond to and, without governmental control, provide for the educational needs of children…”

This is legislative language for what Milton Friedman formulated in his 1995 article, Public Schools - Make Them Private.  For a full description of the national infrastructure in place for privatizing public schools, read this Think Progress report and follow all the links.  You will end up with no doubt about the goals of the "school choice" movement.

There are two categories of advocates for voucher and the many other bills that would have the effect of dismantling public education.

Some say, "Our schools are great, but kids have different needs.  We just need to give parents a choice."

The others say, "Our schools are no good.  Our education system does not compete will globally and New Hampshire's system is lousy too.  Look at how many kids do not achieve grade level proficiency.  (For the DNHPE rap on that test score assertion, see this page.)

But they all agree:
  • Get the federal government out of education (and everything else), public or private.
  • It appears that most would say that the state should get out of the schools as well.  That is the theme of much of the anti-public school legislation. 
  • Parents' individual rights are paramount.  They take precedence over everything else (such as the compromises required to make uses of a public asset like a school).
So we have a basic libertarian argument.  Those who say they support public schools, just without the federal or state government involved (aside from funding private, religious and home schools with public money) are redefining what a public school is.

Advocates may not agree that they want to "dismantle" public education, but the education system left after taking all government out of it and making private, religious and home schools an equal option for public money  will not look much like what we call public education today.

The quotes and references below illustrate the various forms this discussion takes.


The message from voucher advocates and supporters of New Hampshire's Education Tax Credit proposal is just too clear to be denied: the vision of the Prime Sponsors of SB 372 and HB 1607, and of many of the other core supporters of the legislation, is to shut down the public school system and replace it with religious and home schools.

Not all cosponsors and supporters of the legislation necessarily share this view.  Some have said, in effect, "It just seems like a good idea to be able to offer people, especially poor people, a choice.  And it's revenue neutral."  The proposed program does not target poor people.  And it is not revenue neutral.  

The sponsors know enough to soft pedal their goals.  You hear the references to "choice" and parental rights.  When you ask about their commitment to public schools, they may say they want to improve our educational results and our public school results have been bad.  They'll say the money should follow the child.  They'll characterize voucher opponents as worrying about what school gets the money.

HB 542 passed on January 5, 2012, over the Governor's veto.  The bill enables any parent who can afford to pay for an alternative curriculum to veto all or any portion of any school lesson plan for their child for any reason.  

On January 17, the NPR call-in show, The Exchange, held a discussion of the bill.  A New Hampshire group supporting a wide range of anti-public education initiatives, Cornerstone Action, sent a representative. Here is is on show:

(at 10 minutes into the recording of the show), J. Scott Moody, Vice President of Policy at Cornerstone Policy Research and Cornerstone Action:  

"Fundamentally, it boils down to the question of parental the end of the day, the responsibility to educate a child is his or her parents'....they spend more time with their children, far more time than the eight hours a day they spend in the classroom.... and based on that knowledge...they can determine whether or not they need to look for alternatives.

"And, frankly, I think this is good for the school system...Competition is good in the private sector.  It's going to be good in the education sector as well.  

"In New Hampshire, we're seeing a decline in school age children.....If that parent feels they need to pull their child out of the public school system and put them into a private school, that's going to hurt the public school system as a whole.  This will give parents other options and potentially keep that child in the school system.

(at 27:30), Mark Joyce, Executive Director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association joins the conversation, advocating for the public's control over public education:

(30:20) "...really at the core of this issue is a fundamental question about whether public education is an overall public good that should be controlled by all citizens - or is it a private right of every parent.  Now, historically, for well over 100 years in our country, one of our greatest assets has been the public's control over public education.

Whether a citizen has a child or not, or ever will, they have a good interest in whether we have an educated citizenry.  And that, I think, is what's at the core here.

(31:15) Laura Knoy: Are you saying this threatens a well educated citizenry?

"I think it certainly fractures the belief that all children deserve a quality education that is publicly controlled. 

It's forever been an issue that a parent has a right to alter that by providing private education...However, now we're talking about changing the nature of public education based on the interests of one parent.

In SB 372/HB 1607, the Education Tax Credit (school voucher) bills

The bills state their purpose as to:

“Allow maximum freedom to parents and independent schools to respond to and, without governmental control, provide for the educational needs of children…”

The school choice advocates who helped write the bill say it too.  Mr. Alan Schaeffer was credited twice at the 1/23/12 press conference announcing the bill with having written SB 372.  

The two outside advisers brought in by the SB 67 committee (set up to study the voucher and education tax credit idea) have well established credentials in the "end public schools" arena.  

One was Alan Schaeffer, of the Network for Educational Opportunity and The Alliance for the Separation of School and State, and one was Adam Schaeffer, of the Cato Center for Education Reform.  All three organizations are public advocates for ending the public education system.  In all three cases, the links make the mission clear.

We believe parents are the natural and rightful representatives and governors of their children’s preparation for life. They possess a sovereignty that is both a right and a responsibility and outweighs any claim a government may make to the lives of children.

From The Alliance for the Separation of School and State:

"The Short Answer:
    • Government schooling stands in direct opposition to the liberty this country was founded on.
    • It fosters unquestioning obedience, acceptance of authority, herd mentality, and dependency.
    • It manufactures "equality" by lowering standards.
    • It discourages individuality, innovation, curiosity, creativity and overall excellence.
    • It undermines families and other relationships.
    • It undermines religious beliefs, values and morality.
    • It fosters social, psychological, emotional and intellectual dysfunction and promotes immaturity and perpetual adolescence.
    • It makes children the victims of political change, special interests, researchers, unions and social reformers.
    • It undermines the ability of parents to provide their children with the quality and type of education they desire for them."
The Cato Institute's Adam Schaeffer, the other SB 67 committee advisor, said in a September 6, 2011 blog post titled Yes, the Department of Education Is Unconstitutional

“Tina Korbe at HotAir had a mostly-great post on Michele Bachmann’s completely correct observation that the federal government is not authorized by the Constitution to muck about in education.

“Specifically, Bachmann said, “[T]he Constitution does not specifically enumerate nor does it give to the federal government the role and duty to superintend over education that historically has been held by the parents and by local communities and by state governments.” Kudos to Bachmann for that. My colleague Neal McCluskey is the go-to guy on all of this, andexplains it very succinctly in many places.”

Here is a Cato Institute (Cato Center for Education Reform) literature review making the case for maket-based choice vs. "government monopoly" schools.  As the language makes clear, there is no room on the agenda for improving public schools.  The problem is structural - the government controls them.  

By Andrew J. Coulson

During a recent round of visits with print journalists, a newspaper editor told me that she receives between five and ten times as many press releases attacking school choice as she receives in support of it. As a corrective to that lopsided public relations onslaught, she asked if the claims made on behalf of school choice were backed up by solid research, and if so, where that research might be found.

In reality, the vast majority of sound empirical studies comparing competitive education markets to state-run school monopolies give the edge to markets. A few find no significant differences, and only the tiniest percentage find any sort of advantage to government operated schools. Moreover, the superiority of free market education is not limited to higher student achievement, but extends to a variety of positive social effects as well.

What follows is a short list of studies introducing that empirical literature. Since the purpose of this comparison is illustrate differences between traditional state-run schooling and markets of competing private schools, public school choice programs and public charter schools are considered incidentally or not at all. Wherever possible, research summaries are cited so as to make the most efficient use of the reader’s time. The material is organized by topic, and links are provided for studies (or summaries thereof) available on the Internet.

There are many ways beyond the advisors' associations to understand the views of our anti-public education legislators and voucher proponents.  Senator James Forsythe (R, Concord), the prime mover behind the voucher legislation, is among the leadership of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, a libertarian organization that supports many legislators.   

At the core of the nation school "choice" (voucher, education tax credit) movement is goal of eliminating public schools entirely.  They most often avoid saying it directly, but they get right up close and you quickly begin to see the dog whistle words they use.

One direct link between our legislators and that movement is the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, the state chapter of the national Republican Liberty Caucus, where the following quote is from their mission statement.

"We support reforms that respect the rights and obligations of parents to choose from among competitive educational services and provide for their children’s schooling. We favor private charity, endowments and scholarships and a phase out of all government controls."

The slate of legislative candidates endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire (here) is a pretty good approximation of Free Staters, Free State fellow travelers and hard core anti-public education advocates.  Candidates must apply for endorsement by taking a survey that asks about their support for charters and vouchers, but candidates answers are not public.

The "eliminate public schools" position is not far below the surface in many of these folks.  For instance, Rep. Will Smith (R-New Castle) said in a house meeting in New Castle in June, 2011 that he was not in favor of any school that was not subject to the competitive marketplace. 

Rep. Hoell (R-Dunbarton) goes pretty far in his OpEd, which we address specifically in this article on the web site: The Hollow Free State Tea Party Case for Vouchers in New Hampshire

Advocates of privatized education want to end public schools

Voucher advocates in PA and NJ:

"We think public schools should go away,’’ says Teri Adams, the head of the Independence Hall Tea Party and a leading advocate — both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania — of passage of school voucher bills. The tea party operates in those two states and Delaware.
They should "go away," she says, because "they are hurting our children.’’


"Our ultimate goal is to shut down public schools and have private schools only, eventually returning responsibility for payment to parents and private charities. It’s going to happen piecemeal and not overnight. It took us years to get into this mess and it’s going to take years to get out of it."

Daniels signs vouchers, charter school bills into law
You see a similar sentiment expressed here, where a legislator thinks funding should follow the children.

Pro-Voucher Tea Party Group Admits It Wants To ‘Shut Down Public Schools And Have Private Schools Only’
This covers the same PA/NJ group, but adds more references

REPORT: Meet The Billionaires Who Are Trying To Privatize Our Schools And Kill Public Education
This is a very important an detailed report.

REPORT: Across The Country, Conservatives Shift Taxpayer Dollars From Public to Private Schools

Targeting the very existence of public schools
This a a good Washington Monthly article on Rick Santorum and other national candidates getting right up close to calling for the elimination of "government-run" schools.

This guy sells home school material and is very explicit in his Tweets and posts about eliminating public schools.

Elimination of public schools, behind "choice" rhetoric.

Here's the form the debate took in PA, which just defeated a voucher plan.

Tea Party Frontrunner: Abolish Public Schools
 "Harmer argues that 'government should exit the business of running and funding schools.' "