The right is making public education intolerable. That’s not an accident.

Prayer in school
Photo: Maria Dryfhout/Shutterstock

The Republicans have a standard playbook when they want to get rid of something. If they can’t kill it outright, they will slowly starve it to death. A case in point is what they’ve done to the Internal Revenue Service, clearing the way for rich people to file outlandish tax returns with little fear of audit and for hate groups to register as churches without worry of being questioned.

So it’s no surprise that the far-right Christian movement targeting schools today has a similar plan. Drain money from the schools and eventually they become so weak that they are easily taken over.

And the threat of legal bills from “Don’t Say Gay” laws and “parent rights” requirements are a big part of that plan. School districts are forced to comply with the anti-LGBTQ+ movement’s vision at the risk of incurring a sizeable bill from a random irate parent just waiting to complain about an inappropriate rainbow or pronoun.

A key architect of this plan is Michael Farris, formerly the head of the anti-LGBTQ+ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom and a long-time advocate for homeschooling. Farris was recently caught on a recording with fat-cat Christian backers promising to “take down the education system as we know it today.”

Farris has hopes of siphoning money from public education for vouchers for private schools. The Supreme Court has already started clearing the way for more widespread use of vouchers by religious schools, many of which actively discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.

If you wonder why Farris and others aren’t content to just take the voucher money and leave the rest of public education alone, that’s because it’s critical to their vision of society. The Christian movement known as the Seven Mountains Mandate believes Christians should control the seven spheres of society, of which education is one (the others are family, religion, media, business, government, and entertainment).

In order to control public education, the opponents on the right have to destroy it. Defunding it is the easiest way to meet that goal.

It didn’t start with Farris. When she was Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos was a huge proponent of pushing money toward private schools. She proposed a $1 billion voucher program that would have greatly benefited Christian academies. She helped get funding for programs to allow prayer in school during instruction time. She also threatened to cut money elsewhere, including to states that allowed trans athletes to compete.

While some money goes directly to religious schools, Republicans also like to point money toward charter schools, which can be secular and some of which have a good record of educating students who opt for them. But by pulling the most motivated students out of the public school system and taking a chunk of money along with it, charter schools only exacerbate the existing problems in public schools.

Of course, for the right that may be a feature, not a bug. That’s just more proof that the current system doesn’t work. Moreover, charter schools, like private schools, don’t have teachers’ unions, which the GOP despises. No wonder the right is actively calling for defunding public education.

In the meantime, every effort by the right is taken to make the current system as intolerable as possible. The “Don’t Say Gay” laws create an impossible burden on caring teachers, driving them from the profession. The cry of “parents’ rights” allows extremists to win elected positions and impose even greater restrictions, often targeting LGBTQ+ students.

Education in the U.S. is already often resourced inequitably and inadequately. The idea that the right is willing to destroy the futures of countless students for the sake of installing its own vision of public education – where prayer is encouraged and LGBTQ+ identities are not, and where a warped view of history is taught – is maddening. Unfortunately, that’s the lesson that we may be about to learn.

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