TWO VERY DIFFERENT PUBLIC SCHOOL FIGHTS

Even though the VA governor race has gone opposite the president basically every time historically, everyone seems to have their own hot take about why the Democrats lost in Virginia, a need to treat the race as a bellwether for the impending doom of the Democratic party.

Some are blaming it on progressives, saying Biden is overreaching with his Build Back Better agenda (despite the fact that everything in it is extremely popular).

Others are saying it’s the gridlock that had Biden’s popular budget and the infrastructure package stuck in gear (and gutted) that caused people to sour on the Dems.

And then there’s the schools issue.

Glenn Youngkin seized on a big misstep by Terry Mcauliffe in the closing weeks of the race where he said:

“I’m not going to let parents come into schools, and actually take books out, and make their own decision.”

Republicans seized on the quote as Mcauliffe saying parents should have “no role” in public schools, which is something no candidate is arguing for or running on.

Those who want the truth taught, believe masks keep kids safe, and who insist Critical Race Theory is not being taught are not saying parents have “no place” in schools. School boards were elected by parents to make many of those decisions, and parental involvement is obviously an important key to a child’s education.

Youngkin seizing on that unfortunate Mcauliffe quote was fair play. His closing ads that insisted Mcauliffe was lying about CRT being taught in schools, however, were not. The slides Youngkin featured in those ads were not from a Virginia public schools curriculum, but were instead from a presentation given to adults about student discipline – according to the woman whose presentation it was, and who was horrified by Youngkin’s tactics.

Never one to let facts to get in the way of a good story, that didn’t matter to Youngkin. He featured them anyway, which led to many Virginians pointing to CRT in schools as their main issue in the election even when they couldn’t tell you what CRT actually is.

Whether or not you believe the CRT lie turned the election, one thing is clear: Republicans are going to make public schools an issue throughout the country in future elections.

And they’re finding sympathy for their causes in some unlikely places – the bluest cities in America.

There’s now no shortage of think pieces about how school issues in places like New York City and San Francisco where people believe the push for equity and inclusion have gone too far have laid the groundwork for the conflicts we’re seeing in places like Virginia – as though the discussions surrounding public schools in these very different places are somehow even remotely the same.

But they are not.

In Tennessee for instance, the fights at school board meetings are about refusing to mask children, banning books, and not even letting teachers talk about race, which is essentially the bill Tennessee legislators just proudly passed.

Notably, that anti-CRT bill didn’t even mention CRT, but instead basically banned teachers from putting history in the context of race.

The state legislature is also banning the ability of teachers to even mention LGBT people, and passing bills that threaten heavy fines if teachers teach the truth about our history, instead insisting that they both-sides things like the Civil War (while they fight to keep KKK Grand Wizard statues in our capitol and refuse to acknowledge that the Civil War was fought over slavery).

This is all against a backdrop of having Governor Bill Lee as our governor, who has made “school choice” and private school vouchers his #1 priority, getting them passed through “bribes and threats” according to members of his own party before they were struck down by a federal judge.

Yet he’s still trying.

Lee even had Trump Secretary of Education Betsy Devos come to town to help him push the vouchers through. Devos once revealed on a Christian radio show that her agenda was to steer public funds to private Christian schools to “Advance God’s Kingdom” – a goal Governor Lee very much seems to share.

Steering funds away from our public schools is especially problematic considering we’re already #46 in the nation in per pupil spending. We have BILLIONS in our “rainy day fund”, we just awarded $900 MILLION to Ford for a new plant in West Tennessee… yet when it comes to our kids and paying our teachers properly, it’s pockets empty.

That’s the backdrop for the school board fights in Southern states like ours. It isn’t about renaming a school away from a founding father to be more politically correct here, or about whether or not there’s a more racially equitable way we can teach math.

It’s about DEFUNDING PUBLIC EDUCATION.

It’s worth noting the chair of Moms For Liberty in Williamson County doesn’t even have her kids in public schools (Lee doesn’t either), openly says we shouldn’t teach the truth, and has called public school teachers “brainwashing assholes”. Governor Lee once told a woman at a town hall he agreed people without kids in schools should have the option not to pay for them.

So when Virginia makes headlines, and moderate Democrats who otherwise believe in public schools and want to fix them start to see those Republicans as brothers and sisters-in-arms in a war against progressives, they need to realize the fight they’re fighting is a MUCH DIFFERENT FIGHT than the fight those Republicans they sympathize with are fighting, and that tying the two together ultimately runs cover for people who are hellbent on destroying public education.

As we move towards a more equitable and inclusive country, and public schools more and more become the center of the discussion, there may be things some think go too far – but please think twice before making common cause with those who don’t want to fix public schools, but instead would prefer they, and government-backed anything, go away completely – which would inevitably hurt those with the least, the most.

Public education is a bedrock of our American democracy. It isn’t perfect, but we need it. Let’s fix it and defend it, not attack it and defund it.

Justin Kanew is the founder of the Tennessee Holler. Subscribe & Support HERE.

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