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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

An Opportunity To Defend “Government Schools”

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen has done an important post on the rise of radical anti-public-school sentiment among conservatives.
The belief that public education is an illegitimate exercise was until recently a rare fringe phenomenon mainly confined to the more tedious of libertarians, to home-schoolers angry at having to pay school taxes, and to occasional outbursts from Jim DeMint.
Now hostility to public schools is breaking out all over:

[T]his talk is picking up in right-wing media. CNSNews’ Terry Jeffrey argued a few weeks ago, “It is time to drive public schools out of business.” Townhall columnist Chuck Norris has begun calling public schools “indoctrination camps.” Townhall columnist Bill Murchison argued last week that the American middle class has pulled its support for public education.

And in Iowa, probable 2012 presidential candidates are pandering to home-schoolers, a significant force in Mike Huckabee’s 2008 Caucus win in the state, by attacking public schools.
This does not, of course, mean there’s any immediate threat to the future of public education, but this new spirit of conservative radicalism does make it a lot easier for Republican politicians to take less radical but still destructive positons on the subject, from attacks on federal funding to equalize educational opportunities, to private school voucher initiatives, to efforts to break teachers unions. After all, if a sizable and influential portion of your party’s electoral base cheers proposals to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education as a way-station to elimination of state and local government support for schools, why not throw them a dog whistle more often?
Given the massive public support for public education, exposing the growing radicalism of the GOP on this issue is both a responsibility and an opportunity for Democrats. Retaking the mantle of genuine “school reform” aimed at improving the performance of public schools would, of course, help boost Democrats’ credibility to do so.

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