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Transcript: Thom Hartmann: The Big Picture: Vouchers vs. Public Education...a right or a privilege? 26 May '11
Raise your hand if you’re in violation of your state’s constitution.
That’s right - the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Republican Governor Chris Christie’s enormous cuts to education - cuts mostly targeting schools in low income districts - are in violation of the state’s constitution which requires the state to:
Provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.
The key words right there are “free - public - education”.
For some reason Chris Christie - as well as a slew of other Republicans around the country - think they can get around that requirement of FREE PUBLIC education by instead offering a free for-profit private education, or a free religious private education.
Private education that’s been proven over and over again to not yield any better results for students than public education - but comes with a much higher price and a nice fat profit for education company CEOs.
The way this all works is - the state launders the education money through big corporations in the state, to get around the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state - and then parents end up with vouchers for a few thousand dollars each that they can use to send their kids to either for-profit schools run by cronies of the Governor, or religious schools associated with churches that help the Governor get and stay elected.
Everybody wins except the kids and the taxpayers. The kids get an education that is no better than public schools - and in some cases far worse - for example, do you want your tax dollars being used to teach children that science is evil and the world is only 6000 years old? That's a great generation of future engineers, right?
But the governor and the Republicans get a lot of love from megachurches, fundamentalist religious groups, and the for-profit school owners and CEOs they play golf with and get contributions from. Here's how the scam works:
New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie cut $820 million out of his education budget last year - then created an $825 million school voucher program this year.
In Wisconsin - Governor Scott Walker is slashing $900 million out of his education budget and adding $750 million to a school voucher program.
So forcing us to use our tax dollars to undermine our very own public education system.
What’s worse - some of the private schools that benefit from these vouchers are religious schools - so not only are we committing tax dollars toward ruining public education - but we’re also committing tax dollars to tearing down that wall of separation between church and state that Thomas Jefferson so elegantly wrote about.
So we have federal education dollars going to CEOs who only care about profits - and federal education dollars going to churches that only care about getting their religious message across - and these churches - like the corporations - have a whole new revenue stream to support their evangelism, and a whole crop of young new converts - all on your nickel.
We as a nation decided a long time ago to make education a part of the commons - something that belongs to all of us, all of us citizens - and not for corporations to carve up - water down - and sell back to us at a profit.
For example, this was the dream of Thomas Jefferson - who founded the University of Virginia as a beacon of public education - a school that would serve both aristocrats and paupers. The University of Virginia was one of Jefferson's premier accomplishment in a life of endless accomplishments.
In fact - he wanted engraved on his tombstone - not that he was the third President of the United States - you won;t find that there on his tombstone - but that he was the founder of the University of Virginia. That's how much he cared about it. In 1786 - Jefferson wrote about a system of public education. He wrote:
I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of tyranny and oppression]. And that the tax that will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
In large part because of Jefferson's fight, every state in the union today has a provision in their constitution to provide free public education to all of its citizens, just the way our founding fathers envisioned.
And this system lasted for years and years, until 1981 when Ronald Reagan started the war on public education. He immediately slashed the federal education budget in half. He put Bill Bennett in charge of the federal education department - a guy who had campaigned on eliminating the department.
He told for-profit businesses to step up and pick up the slack. And now Reagan worshipers like Chris Christie and Scott Walker find themselves in positions of power around the country. And they want to further expand private education until it completely replaces public education.
But we can't let them do it.
Just like the New Jersey Supreme Court stood up yesterday for the rights of students to have access to free public education, we need to stand up and tell our lawmakers that we're tired of having the education of our kids outsourced to greedy CEOs, or being forced to pay for other people's kids to go to church schools.
As Jefferson warned, the taxes we all pay to educate Americans are far less than the consequences of not educating them, like the cost of tyrants rising to power in an ignorant America.
Let's kick the profiteers and the evangelists out of our schools.
That's The Big Picture.