The president's plan to forgive $10,000 in student debt per borrower has several negative consequences.
Last week, The Washington Post reported that the president’s plan, which sources say is nearing a formal announcement, will resemble his 2020 campaign promise to forgive $10,000 in federal student loans per borrower. The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimates this will cost taxpayers $230 billion.
While political firebrands such as Sen. Bernie Sanders have long supported substantially increasing federal higher education spending, including offering things like free college, President Biden’s proposal would represent a significant change in policy from previous presidential administrations, including Democrats.
President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promises were modest by comparison. President Obama sought to expand Pell Grant access to low-income students and eliminate government subsidies to private student lenders. Even Obama’s 2014 executive order that sought to forgive some federal student loans only did so after 20 years and required borrowers to make regular payments via the Pay As You Earn Initiative.
By comparison, the Biden administration’s plan is a major departure from Obama’s more modest and measured approach to student debt. While it would certainly be popular with many of the people who have $10,000 of their student debt forgiven, public opinion is quite divided over how to handle college student debt.
A CNBC national poll conducted in January of 2022 found that 34% of respondents supported loan forgiveness for all student loans. Only 27% of respondents opposed student loan forgiveness entirely. However, 35% of respondents supported a middling approach, preferring loan forgiveness only for those “in need.”
Supporters of student loan forgiveness for those in need may be pleased to hear that President Biden’s proposal is reportedly going to be means-tested, with individuals eligible for student loan forgiveness if they have an income of less than $150,000 ($300,000 for couples).
The Washington Post editorial board notes some of the problems with that cut-off:
These provisions, while welcome, would not stop the policy from becoming yet another taxpayer-funded subsidy for the upper middle class. The president’s means test would be almost useless, as some 97 percent of borrowers would still qualify for forgiveness. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan watchdog, estimates that such a plan would cost at least $230 billion, that 71 percent of the benefits would flow to those in the top half of the income scale — and that a quarter of the benefits would go to the top 20 percent. Even this does not express fully how regressive the policy would be, because many recent graduates from medical, law and business schools would qualify for forgiveness even though their lifetime income trajectories don’t justify it.
Similarly, The Wall Street Journal has reported that more than 40% of all student loan debt is held by individuals with advanced and lucrative degrees, such as doctors and lawyers.
Only one-third of Americans have bachelor’s degrees. These individuals are statistically likely to earn more than the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have those credentials.
This means that many taxpayers nationwide, 85% of whom do not have student loan debt, would now be paying off the student debt of their college-educated peers who, in many cases, enjoy greater affluence because of their college degrees.
Importantly, this loan forgiveness proposal does not actually address the major problem of rising college costs. Biden’s plan would likely only exacerbate what many have labeled the student debt crisis.
“Economically rational people will respond to that dynamic by choosing more expensive programs of study and borrowing more than they would have otherwise. The result: a pool of outstanding student debt growing even more quickly than before.”
This means that Biden’s proposal would incentivize future students to invest in riskier loans under the hope or assumption that their loans could later be forgiven. Such a plan is a disaster in the making that, over the long-term, could significantly expand Americans’ already ballooning student loan debt.
In fact, even if President Biden does reduce student loan debt by $10,000 per borrower, the Committee for a Responsible Budget reported that the total student loan debt would return to its current level in just three years, assuming no change in borrower behavior.
Instead of debt reduction, policymakers should consider reforms that have a lasting effect and address the rising cost of college. Extricating the federal government from the student loan business altogether or placing strict annual and lifetime caps on federal student loans could help encourage universities to stop hiking their costs.
At the end of the day, any sort of student loan forgiveness is a bad policy since it does not hold individuals accountable for their financial decisions. In fact, it would represent a massive betrayal of public trust. Many people worked to pay off their student loans. Others chose less expensive colleges to avoid student debt. Some people didn’t go to college at all because they decided they couldn’t afford it.
It may be well-intentioned, but President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is a recipe for disaster. It would potentially encourage bad borrowing behavior going forward. It would disadvantage those who made significant sacrifices to avoid or minimize their student debt. And, perhaps worst of all, it would force American taxpayers who didn’t go to college to pay for student debt they chose to not accrue and from which they will not benefit.
What do we think about America in these troubling times? One of my political mentors taught me to look at her as “a great country, filled with good people who sometimes do amazing things.”
It’s an apt description, even now. It’s one of the first things I thought of when I heard how an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent grabbed a borrowed shotgun and rushed to Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas to help rescue people in need as soon as he heard there was trouble.
“With (the) assistance of two officers, who provided cover, and another two who escorted the terrified students from the school,” wrote Jessica Schladebeck for the New York Daily News, Jacob Albarado “helped evacuate dozens of kids, including his daughter, Jayda. The pair shared a quick hug upon their reunion” before going on to help others get to safety.
That’s what I want to think about. Not the 19 dead children and the two teachers and the other casualties that occurred that day. For, as much as America’s greatness still resides within us, manifesting itself when it is most needed, we must likewise acknowledge there are bad people among us who sometimes do evil things.
Mankind, for lack of a better word, is imperfect. It’s not clear why that’s so difficult for people to accept. Everyone knows what James Madison wrote in The Federalist papers about there being no need for government “If men were angels.” What many people don’t recall is what followed.
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
As Madison would no doubt agree, one of those “auxiliary precautions” is the constitutional guarantee that “the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” which, even though the United States Supreme Court recently affirmed that right applies to individuals, is once again under attack in the aftermath of the tragedy in Uvalde.
The liberal response is predictable. Without knowing much, they are calling for tougher gun control laws including the prohibition on the sale and possession of certain types of firearms. They’re not interested in knowing why the security protocols press reports have said were in place failed or even what they were and why the police waited so long after the shooter was in the school before they moved in. Instead, they started playing politics, even before the families of the victims had time to bury their dead. Democrat Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, Texas’s pseudo-Latinx wannabe governor, used the shooting as an opportunity to engage in a face-to-face confrontation with the state’s actual governor, Republican Greg Abbott as he and members of law enforcement were busy explaining what had happened.
O’Rourke may have thought he was “speaking truth to power.” What he really did was show just how little class he has. He’ll probably lose in November by a large margin and all I can say to that is “Good riddance.” But he wasn’t the only liberal to go after guns once again.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blocked a GOP effort Wednesday to codify the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse, a database of information available at SchoolSafety.gov started during the Trump administration, into law. “Hardening schools would’ve done nothing to prevent this shooting. In fact, there were guards and police officers already at the school yesterday when the shooter showed up,” Schumer said. “More guns won’t protect our children.”
Schumer’s lack of knowledge about school safety and firearms only compounds his ignorance regarding human nature. The United States has spent billions since 9/11 to harden airports and federal buildings and other facilities to protect against the threat of terrorism. If that works, and the amount of money spent doing it suggests people believe it will then logically, additional efforts to harden schools will protect children.
If the issue is finding the root cause, then why aren’t the people demanding “something, anything be done” concerned with why no one stopped the bullying the shooter underwent as a child because he lisped and stuttered? Or how government policies toward the poor and underclass may have exacerbated the difficulties he faced at home growing up? Or how the educational system failed to respond in a meaningful, effective way to what appears to have been the shooter’s obvious mental deterioration? Or how the lockdowns imposed because of COVID that closed the schools may have contributed to it all.
There are lots of questions that should be asked in addition to “How did he get a gun?” It’s too bad there aren’t more people interested in asking them. What we’re getting instead is a long-winded, fruitless crusade against firearms once again launched by people who don’t understand guns and gun culture that won’t change anything.
Instead of looking to the prohibitions for the answers, we should look to the people who own guns and understand their legitimate place in society for the answers. As unsettling as the incident in Uvalde is, the city of Chicago – which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country – is an open-air shooting gallery and home to an ongoing mass shooting that differs from what happened in Texas primarily because the victims are spread out over time and the police, who can’t count on the backing of the politicians who run the city don’t seem to have the resolve to do anything about it.
More than anything else, we need to take a look at how local and state first responders are trained to handle situations like the one at Robb Elementary. Officials in Texas admitted Friday they waited too long before storming the school, a delay that may have made the tragedy worse.
According to The New York Times’ Eileen Sullivan and J. David Goodman, “When specially equipped federal immigration agents arrived at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, the local police at the scene would not allow them to go after the gunman who had opened fire on students inside the school, according to two officials briefed on the situation.” That, in a word, is inexcusable.
America is not, as even some defenders of the gun culture argue, a sick nation. It is a great nation, as my mentor said, full of people who have the courage to face the problem of gun violence head-on rationally, showing appropriate respect for due process, the Second Amendment, and other things that matter. They should be given the chance to do so.
The administration recently proposed a new Department of Education rule to make it more difficult for nonprofit organizations to open charter schools, forcing them to comply with many unnecessary regulations and bureaucratic paperwork requests.
President Biden is keeping a campaign promise that will, unfortunately, make life more difficult for students and parents.
The administration recently proposed a new Department of Education rule to make it more difficult for nonprofit organizations to open charter schools, forcing them to comply with many unnecessary regulations and bureaucratic paperwork requests. The rule would also prevent for-profit charter school organizations from accessing federal start-up grants.
Regrettably, the president’s approach is out of touch with what parents across the country are demanding for their kids: more choices outside of the traditional public school system.
Nationwide, public school enrollment has fallen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as many teachers unions blocked in-person learning and parents sought other opportunities for their kids. Charter schools, in contrast, largely successfully navigated the pandemic. A January 2022 poll of more than 1,200 parents with school-age children by EdChoice, a nonprofit advocating for school choice, found that 92 percent of parents with charter school students were satisfied with their children’s educations compared to the 76 percent of traditional public school parents who were satisfied.
Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found privately managed charter schools in New York, California and Washington state were “very successful” at meeting students’ needs from the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 through June 2021. Similarly, a National Center for Education Statistics survey of more than 80,000 public- and private-school teachers and principals found, “Sixty-three percent of private-school teachers, during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, reported using scheduled real-time lessons that allowed students to ask questions through a video or audio call” but just 47 percent of public-school teachers did the same.
The Biden administration’s proposal is also disappointing because it ignores the important role for-profit enterprises play in public education. Traditional public schools routinely use for-profit companies to provide students with transportation, technology, building management and much more. Although there have been some egregious examples of self-dealing in the for-profit charter school world, policymakers shouldn’t paint with too broad a brush. Some for-profit charter management organizations have produced impressive results for students.
“In the recent U.S. News & World Report Best High School rankings, four of the five top schools in the country are associated with a for-profit education company,” noted Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners.
Equally concerning is how Biden’s proposal would place new burdens on non-profit entities that want to use federal funds to open charter schools in their communities. To access federal funding under the proposed rule, nonprofits looking to establish a new charter school would need to create reports for the federal government proving there is a demand for a new school, detailing myriad ways the school plans to engage with the community, an in-depth analysis of neighborhood demographics, how the school plans to attract a racially diverse student body and staff, and more.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said Biden’s proposal “would create roadblocks that would make Charter Schools Program funds almost completely inaccessible — particularly to new schools in Black, Brown, rural or indigenous communities.”
In many communities, charter schools are basically privately managed public schools that are stepping up to give students better options. In the case of for-profit schools, ideally, they wouldn’t need federal funding at all, but the current education finance system is so dysfunctional that many do, and thus the administration’s targeting of them is misguided.
Across the country, parents are telling elected officials they need more education options for their children. Sadly, the Biden administration’s charter school rule would do the opposite, limiting education options for the communities that need them most.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, changes set to be approved May 26 would punish ‘malicious misgendering’ at the same level as assault and battery.
For those who scoff that Florida’s new education law bans “non-existent” gender indoctrination, let the tale of Fairfax County, Virginia serve as a wake-up call.
Fairfax County’s school board has long prided itself on leading the way for the nation in cutting-edge education policy and curriculum. As the tenth-largest district in the nation, it holds disproportionate sway over other school boards.
In 2015, the Fairfax school board blindsided parents with changes to its non-discrimination policy, followed by a sweeping expansion of the sex-ed curriculum and new rules governing student offenses and penalties. This is not an isolated policy. In Wisconsin, three middle-schoolers have been accused of “sexual harassment” for using biologically accurate pronouns to refer to a fellow student.
Fairfax’s proposed changes, set to be approved May 26, have hit a new low. Legally meaningless offenses such as “malicious misgendering” and “outing related to gender identification” would be now punishable by up to “Level 4” sanctions. It’s the last level before penalties for drug dealing, rape, and homicide.
Level 4 is the punishment meted out for assault and battery, drug consumption, theft, and arson. These penalties may be applied even to kindergarteners and include, at their worst, expulsion at the behest of the school board.
This barrage of ideological punishment is accompanied by the school board sex-ed committee’s latest, unanimous April 2022 vote to move instruction on gender identity down to elementary school. This puts the Fairfax school system entirely out of step with the Virginia State Standards of Learning on Family Life Education (sex ed).
But this is nothing new. In 2015 Fairfax school board proposed moving instruction on gender fluidity and identity down to middle school from high school, as well as sweeping expansions of the sex-ed curriculum on gender and sexuality. The board and superintendent claimed they were required to make these changes in order to align with new Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). When other mothers and I combed through the SOLs, we discovered this was a flat-out lie: there was not even a reference to these controversial new sexual concepts.
The Fairfax County School Board continued to steamroll families in 2018, when it voted against overwhelming community input to change the terminology of biological sex to “sex assigned at birth.” As I served on the sex-ed committee for more than years, I saw firsthand the determined effort to move teaching on sexuality to lower and lower grades, and to work around parents who might disagree—a trend mothers and fathers all over the nation are noting as well.
The 2019 blue wave in Virginia, when national LGBTQ advocacy groups including the Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund poured millions of dollars into our local races, resulted in further erosion of parental rights in Fairfax County. The new Transgender Policy (R2603.2) establishes a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary support and gender transition team for Fairfax County students.
This team can be formed and operate in secret, without the parents ever being made aware. The policy dictates that parents may be involved in a child’s gender transition team “if the student is willing.” It further stipulates that “a persistent refusal to use a student’s chosen name and pronouns constitutes discrimination”—again, a sanctionable offense for students and teachers alike.
At the state level, Fairfax ideologues are backstopped by their close ally in Richmond, the Senate Education Committee. Powerful members like state Sen. Janet Howell, who twice has used her election committee seat to gerrymander opponents out of her district during her campaigns, treat parents and students alike with staggering arrogance. The education committee is notorious as the graveyard of bills promoting curriculum transparency and accountability.
Taken as a whole, these actions and others by the Fairfax school board over the last several years constitute an ideological and dangerous overhaul of policy, curriculum, and standards that have little to no basis in law, but threaten very real harm to children. Two pending lawsuits in Virginia defending the rights of teachers are addressing these very questions of pronoun use.
But in the meantime, these actions by the Fairfax School Board have set the stage for children to be encouraged to transition in secret, and for children who might persist in using biologically accurate pronouns to be dealt criminal-level penalties.
For those who look at Florida and say “but no one is teaching these things in kindergarten,” let Fairfax be a cautionary tale. Our school board not only plans to teach them, but to expel the pint-size “criminals” who might resist.
Billions of dollars in taxpayer funds intended to keep schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic will instead be used to push Critical Race Theory on children.
$122 billion from President Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” is slated for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Under the law, those funds are supposed “to help safely reopen and sustain the same operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nation’s students.”
Fox News reports schools in some states plan to instead spend those funds on “implicit bias” and “anti-racism” training, which teaches children that all white people are racist and global socialism is the only hope for racial reconciliation.
Fox News reports:
Applications were due on June 7, 2021, and at least $46.5 billion from the ARP ESSER fund has been allocated to 13 states, including California, New York and Illinois, that are planning to use the funds to implement CRT in their schools.
The California Department of Education was awarded $15.1 billion in ARP ESSER funding to implement its schools reopening plan, which included $1.5 billion for training resources for school staff regarding “high-need topics,” like “implicit bias training.”
The California DoE used funds to “increase educator training and resources” in subjects such as “anti-bias strategies,” “environmental literacy,” “ethnic studies,” and “LGBTQ+ cultural competency,” according to the plan.
[Secretary of Education] Cardona said in November 2021 that he was “excited” to approve California’s plan, and that it laid the “groundwork for the ways in which an unprecedented infusion of federal resources will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children and build back better.”
The U.S. Department of Education claims the political re-education classes are necessary to “meet student and educators’ social, emotional, and mental health needs” and are part of a larger government-driven “culture shift” to ensure schools “reopen equitably for all students.”
Providing the option of small-scale customization to families who are happy with their public schools may be exactly the reform strategy the school choice movement has needed for decades.
In Michigan, thousands of state residents have signed a petition that would establish education savings accounts for students. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed similar legislation last year but if the petition makes it to the state ballot and passes this fall (and it is looking like it will), it would create one of the largest school choice programs in the country by commanding as much as $500 million in annual funding to provide flexible spending accounts for low-income and special needs students. Under the proposal, students could access $7,830 each year to pay for private school tuition and other customizable services such as tutoring or transportation.
But Michigan’s program wouldn’t just serve students who decide to leave their public school to homeschool or attend a private school. It would also make $500 available annually to qualifying students who remain in public schools and provide $1,100 annually for public school students with disabilities. While those amounts are only a fraction of the funds that would be available to students who withdraw from public school, it would be the first time a school choice proposal puts education dollars directly in the hands of students who remain in public schools.
This would be a big deal because granting the option of small-scale customization to families who are happy with their public schools may be exactly the reform strategy the school choice movement has needed for decades.
Opting out of a public school system to transfer to a private school is a big change for most families. Even with access to a publicly-funded private school scholarship, a change of that degree might not be worth it for families who are only somewhat unhappy with their public school. This reality can help to explain why private school choice programs have grown at a slow pace over the last few decades and why the U.S. spends less than 0.4 percent of public education funds on private school choice programs.
It should also be noted that most families are generally happy with their public schools. A 2021 Gallup Poll found that “73% of parents of school-aged children say they are satisfied with the quality of education their oldest child is receiving.” There simply isn’t enough dissatisfaction with the current system at this time to catalyze a large-scale shift away from traditional public schools and toward a customized, private sector-led education system.
Because of this, school choice proponents need policy solutions that meet most families where they are, something Michigan may be on the cusp of accomplishing with its education savings account (ESA) for public school students.
Most families might not be ready to leave the public K-12 system, but they would be excited for a chance to customize on the margins. While many parents can’t imagine curating their child’s entire curriculum, they can certainly envision the benefits of having some funds to pay for an SAT tutor, enroll their student in a financial literacy course at a community college, or buy them a laptop.
This incremental step can introduce education choice to a large swath of previously unreached public-school families, whetting their appetites for more customization. And while there are already programs in other states that resemble something like a public school ESA, Michigan would build on these programs by providing public school students with even more flexibility over how they can use their funds.
For more than 20 years, the private school choice movement has focused on bringing a lot of choice to a relatively small contingent of families lucky enough to have access to vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and ESAs. Maybe it’s time for school choice proponents to consider Michigan’s approach of also giving a taste of choice to the majority of families who, understandably, aren’t ready to leave their traditional public schools.
Florida’s parental rights law has leftists up against a wall, and their methods for coping are getting stranger every day.
The perpetually miserable left has apparently reached the “acceptance” stage of grieving over Florida’s new parental rights law, but their funny hysteria is still the same.
Within the last week, The Washington Post ran two articles offering the same idea for “queer” and transgender leftists who hate the legislation: sue teachers who acknowledge biological reality!
That’s a serious proposal from the Post’s Kate Cohen, who wrote on April 15, “What if we took these laws at their word and treated every lesson that endorsed any sexual orientation or gender schema as an actionable offense?”
“What if we filed a complaint every time a teacher instructed our children to use certain bathrooms solely on the basis of their gender identity?” she continued. “What if we called a lawyer when we discovered our children were learning that the ‘mommies on the bus’ said ‘shush, shush, shush’”?
Similarly, Cohen’s colleague Greg Sargent wrote Monday that “the law’s vagueness might end up handing opponents a hidden weapon against it.” That weapon, he said, is that the law allows parents to bring lawsuits “against references to heterosexuality or cisgenderism.”
Gay and transgender activist groups are already taking legal action against the law, claiming it’s discriminatory and in violation of the First Amendment. I have no idea how that will turn out, but I do know that Cohen and Sargent are either mentally slow or willfully ignorant.
The law in no way bans references by school personnel or students to gender, sex, or even sexual orientation. The children are, in fact, not regulated at all. What the law says — at least the part that has frustrated so many leftists — is that classroom “instruction” in grades kindergarten through three should exclude “sexual orientation or gender identity.”
A person would have to either be dumb or pretend to be dumb in order to not know what that means. And, contrary to what the left insists, biological differences between males and females exist, regardless of how anyone feels.
Instructing children to use the restroom corresponding with their biology isn’t a matter of orientation or identity. It’s a matter of science.
Likewise, acknowledging that women have babies or that mothers and fathers exist isn’t some type of weird theory. It’s reality.
True, some children are raised by two men or two women. A male teacher might be married to another man. Recognizing those truths is not under duress.
So, while a lawsuit brought against a teacher who says the word “mother” is possible — anyone can be sued for anything — the left should be prepared for a sane judge to laugh them out of court for bothering.
I get it. A lot of Floridian teachers are mad that they can no longer giddily talk with seven-year-olds about what it means to be “trans fem” or instill in children that “boy parts” and “girl parts” are irrelevant. (There’s a word for people who fancy chatting with kids about such things… I’ll think of it later.) But that’s not the same thing as identifying a pregnant woman, or recognizing aloud that Jane has two dads.
The law has them up against a wall, and their methods for coping are getting stranger every day.
The administration wants to double the funding for a federal program that has failed in its aim to close achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income students.
This week, President Joe Biden released his $5.8 trillion budget proposal for 2023 which included a plan to more than double Title I education funds for low-income students. Biden’s 2022 budget proposal included the same plan to double federal Title I spending, but in the end, Congress only approved a 6% increase, about $19 billion less than what the administration requested.
While Congress is equally unlikely to pursue the president’s proposal this year, it’s important to note why doubling down on Title I funding would be such a flawed strategy. Research consistently shows the program, intended to provide federal funding for schools with higher percentages of children from low-income homes, has failed in its aim to close achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income students since its inception in 1965 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. For example, a study by researchers at George Mason University concluded:
“Given the modest evidence on academic gains and gaps closure attributable to Title I, and considering that the program costs about $15 billion per year, we conclude that Title I compensatory program has been largely ineffective in accomplishing its goal of closing the achievement gaps between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.”
The ineffectiveness should come as no surprise to those familiar with how Title I works. After Biden proposed the 2022 Title I windfall last year, my colleague Christian Barnard and I highlighted just a few of the program’s faults in National Review:
“The current formulas are riddled with complexity, including political provisions that have nothing to do with students’ needs. For example, states are guaranteed a minimum amount of funding even if their share of Title I–eligible students doesn’t warrant it. As a result, Title I dollars are delivered like buckshot, ranging from Idaho getting $984 per eligible student in 2020 to Vermont getting $2,590 per eligible student — 163 percent more per pupil than Idaho. Title I spending needs to be fixed, not increased.”
Keep in mind that President Biden’s Title I proposal comes at a time when many public schools are already flush with cash, thanks to $190 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding that is supposed to prioritize students in high-poverty school districts. Not only that, but public schools are also facing sharp enrollment declines, meaning the budget proposal calls for spending more money on fewer kids when K-12 spending is already at record levels.
Policymakers should be skeptical of continuing to pour more money into a broken federal program. Instead, they should pursue reforms that make Title I dollars flexible, so they support giving families more opportunities and the ability to customize their education. For example, Congress could update the program’s allocation rules and ensure the aid follows students to their public or private school of choice.
Lawmakers could also overhaul the program’s complex web of formulas and non-transparent compliance rules that contribute to school districts’ ineffective spending of the federal funding.
There are a lot of needed reforms to reduce achievement gaps and improve outcomes for low-income students, but pouring more money into Title I isn’t one of them.
In his Gettysburg Address at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln pointed out that the United States was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” “Now,” he continued, “we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Thankfully, we are not in a civil war today – and, one hopes, never will be again. We are, however, in a battle for the soul of our country.
The fight today is not about what we want to achieve but, rather, how best to achieve it. Both sides claim to want a society in which people can live fulfilling lives. Both claim to adhere to the vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence and supported by our Constitution. Yet neither side has any sense of common ground on which to move forward.
Put generally, one side envisions improving our society through a highly involved federal government that provides greater support and greater regulation meant to benefit everyone. The other side believes that traditional American ideals of individual freedom, limited government, and free markets will lead to a better life for all.
Those who want to restrict government power and reach are depicted as greedy and without compassion for the disenfranchised and less fortunate. Those who desire larger government aid and controls are seen as ignorant of history and human nature. One side is judged heartless; the other, brainless. These polarizing caricatures quash any desire for a real understanding of how we as one nation can move forward.
The 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – a miscarriage of justice – was the spark that led to the popularization of critical race theory, riots and looting in many cities, and the tearing down of statues of great Americans. It also gave impetus to the 1619 Project’s skewed framing of the American Founding. All these developments have widened our divide. So has teaching young people in colleges, universities, and K-12 schools that America is systemically racist, which has angered parents across the country.
In fact, ever since the Vietnam War era, civic education has been under attack, beginning at the university level and now at the K-12 level. To make sure our nation, “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” can endure, we must rise to the challenge.
The good news is that most Americans believe in the vision of our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and that all are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Over the years, that vision has united us as one people, even through the most divisive debates, and has attracted millions to America’s shores.
It is that unifying vision that must be taught to our young people. After all, it will fall on their shoulders to continue the progress previous generations have made. Frederick Douglass, during the Civil War era, and Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil rights era, both invoked that vision in advocating for a colorblind society and fair play for all. We have come a long way toward achieving those goals. But teaching our young people through a lens of racial grievance and Marxist historicism corrupts and reverses that progress.
This miseducation must stop. Fortunately, now that parents and the public are becoming aware of and alarmed about the situation, change is possible. The solution is clear: it is to reintroduce and reinvigorate the teaching of both our founding principles and a well-rounded and unbiased American history in our classrooms. While not complicated, this solution will require hard work and financial support.
If our country is to endure, every child should be assured of a high-quality education. Not everyone needs to go to college to lead a successful life. But every child needs, and is entitled to, a quality K-12 learning experience. That should include a solid civics education in our founding principles and our form of government, as well as our history of progress toward achieving the promise of our Declaration. Children should learn about the American culture of freedom and opportunity that enables anyone to achieve success and has made our country a magnet for people from around the world. Together, we need to continue working to achieve the vision of our Declaration.
A significant portion of the $751.7 billion spent annually on K–12 education is used to purchase non-public goods and services.
In a recent tweet, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project, recycled a common refrain against school-choice programs, noting that “they funnel public dollars into privately run institutions.” Similar talking points are being used in Michigan, Texas, and other states to block policies that give families access to their students’ education dollars and more opportunities for their kids.
This argument is misguided and ignores the fact that public education wouldn’t exist without the private sector. The reality is that much of the $751.7 billion spent annually on K–12 education is used to purchase non-public goods and services.
The wheels of commerce are spinning well before the morning bell rings, with public schools spending over $27 billion annually on transportation services. Manufacturers such as Blue Bird — a publicly traded company that recorded $1.019 billion of sales in 2019 — supply the nation’s 480,000 yellow buses, and about one-third of school districts outsource bus services to private contractors, saving public schools millions of dollars each year.
Without these companies, millions of students would be stuck at home, but that’s only the start. School districts also partner with private entities to build the schools, playgrounds, and athletics facilities they rely on each day.
Nationwide, spending on capital consumes roughly 10 percent of all K–12 education dollars each year, totaling $76.3 billion in 2019 alone. Districts finance much of this spending by issuing municipal bonds, which require private-sector assistance from investment banks, attorneys, and ratings agencies and are purchased by investors such as money managers and insurance companies.
For their part, public-school advocates — including teachers’ unions and other school-choice opponents — almost always support bond referenda, despite the cadre of private actors that profit from them.
Once bonds are approved, school districts hire architecture, engineering, and construction companies to do the work. For example, construction giant Balfour Beatty contracts with districts across the country from Texas to California and has completed over $500 million in projects for the public schools in Wake County, N.C., alone.
Inside classrooms, a similar story unfolds. While nearly half of all education dollars are spent on employee salaries, benefit expenditures for things such as pensions and health insurance account for 21 percent of spending. This includes teacher retirement contributions that are made each year to massive pension funds that invest in equities, real estate, and other financial vehicles that help fund managers diversify risk and hit performance targets. Teachers have a vested interest in U.S. economic growth and benefit from the success of corporate giants such as ExxonMobil, Amazon, and Berkshire Hathaway.
Schools are also increasingly reliant on technology companies to supply computers, tablets, and software solutions that support instruction, and it’s estimated that $26 billion to $41 billion is spent each year on education tech. Similarly, states depend on private firms to administer statewide exams, such as the $388 million in contracts Texas awarded to Pearson and Cambium Assessment.
In some cases, school districts even pay private-school tuition for students they can’t serve. The National Association of State Directors of Special Education says that about 1.5 percent of public-school students with disabilities are placed by their districts into private schools. This practice helps families obtain specialized services and means that public-school districts are already doing exactly what school-choice opponents fight against — sending public dollars to private schools. The only difference is that district bureaucrats, not parents, are the ones calling the shots.
Of course, not all these examples of private-sector partnerships are wise investments or the best use of scarce resources. After all, K–12 transportation is in desperate need of reform, and construction projects can be wasteful. The real issue that opponents such as Hannah-Jones have with school choice isn’t with public dollars going to the private sector, but with competition for students and their per-pupil funding. The public-school monopoly gets weaker when parents can access their education dollars and use them for the private services that they choose, and that’s a good thing.
Case could heighten pressure on President Biden to deliver on racial-equity agenda
The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will reconsider whether colleges and universities can use race as a factor in admissions.
The justices took up a pair of challenges to affirmative action policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Both broadly allege that the schools discriminate against Asian and white applicants to admit a preferred number of black and Hispanic students. The plaintiffs’ group behind both cases, Students for Fair Admissions, is urging the High Court to scuttle its affirmative action precedents and ban race-conscious admissions.
“Both the Pew Research Center and Gallup have released surveys which indicate that nearly 75 percent of Americans of all races do not believe race or ethnicity should be a factor in college admissions,” said Students for Fair Admissions president Ed Blum. “In a multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation like ours, the college admissions bar cannot be raised for some races and ethnic groups but lowered for others.”
A victory for the plaintiffs would heighten pressure on President Joe Biden to deliver on his racial-equity agenda. As a candidate, he promised sweeping reforms on voting rights and policing, but a year of legislation on both topics is languishing in Congress with little prospect of success. And as Biden has struggled to convince lawmakers to support him, he faces an uphill battle in Monday’s cases before the right-leaning Court.
The plaintiffs have compiled evidence suggesting bias against Asians in admissions. At Harvard, admissions personnel rank students on a numerical scale of four different criteria: academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and a personal rating. Though Asian applicants exceed or are competitive with all racial groups in the first three domains, their personal scores are inexplicably lower than all other racial groups.
Students for Fair Admissions says those low scores reflect “model minority” bias. Asian applicants, they say, are victims of stereotypes that pigeonhole them as highly intelligent but boring and shy. In the evidence-gathering phase of the case, the plaintiffs obtained internal memos from Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research that flagged the disparate scoring outcomes, but the reports did not lead to any policy changes. The plaintiffs also note admissions rates by racial group hold steady over time.
“This manifest steadiness in the racial composition of successive admitted classes speaks for itself,” the petition reads.
In the UNC case, Students for Fair Admissions obtained instant messages traded among admissions officers that show staff speaking crudely about race.
In one representative exchange, an admissions officer alerted a colleague to an applicant with a 2400 SAT score and top marks in Advanced Placement courses. The second officer asked whether the applicant was “brown.” “Heck no. Asian,” the first officer replied. “Of course,” said the second officer. “Still impressive.”
Monday’s news is unwelcome for progressives, who are already bracing for setbacks on abortion and gun rights this term. In their judgment, it’s another signal that the right-leaning Court will be an active force in politics, rather than a passive, reactive institution.
“The goal of these suits—to end the consideration of race in college admissions—is extreme, ignores the history of race discrimination, and threatens diversity and inclusion on campuses,” said Sarah Hinger, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s racial justice program.
The Biden administration urged the justices to steer clear of Monday’s cases. They emphasized that the government’s personnel goals are tied to race-conscious admissions at the nation’s top colleges. Biden has prioritized minority appointments across the government, even as a handful of Democrats pan the dearth of Asian appointees in the cabinet and White House senior staff.
“Among other things, the government has a vital interest in drawing its personnel—many of whom will eventually become its civilian and military leaders—from a well-qualified and diverse pool of university and service academy graduates,” the brief reads.
The administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, solicitor general Elizabeth Prelogar, received a waiver from ethics officials to participate in the case, even though she is a former Harvard employee. A watchdog group, Protect the Public’s Trust, is pressing the administration for information related to the waiver.
The plaintiffs emphasize that race-conscious policies aren’t necessary to make sure disadvantaged students get a fair shot at admission. Eliminating legacy admissions, awarding preferences by zip code, and shoring up community college transfers will keep campuses open to all comers, the plaintiffs say.
There’s a strategic bonus to simultaneously attacking Harvard and UNC’s practices. UNC is a public school, so the plaintiffs can attack its program on statutory and constitutional grounds. Harvard is a private institution, though it is bound by federal anti-discrimination laws because it accepts tax dollars each year.
It’s most likely that the appeals will be heard during the Court’s next term, which begins in October. But it’s plausible that the cases could be scheduled for this term’s last argument session, which begins in April.
First school shooting in Montgomery County history follows vote to remove police from school buildings
Maryland’s Montgomery County became the latest Democrat-run jurisdiction to reverse its decision to remove police officers from schools after it suffered the first school shooting in the county’s history last week, in which a 15-year-old boy was shot last Friday by a classmate.
The district announced on Monday after the shooting that police would temporarily return to every high school in the county, a reversal of a March 2021 decision by county lawmakers to yank funding from its longstanding School Resource Officer program. The lawmakers voted to replace in-school law enforcement with mental health resources, including 50 new social workers and 40 restorative justice training sessions in the county. The shift was designed to keep students “safe, holistically,” according to Montgomery councilman Will Jawando.
But the mental health measures proved ineffective last Friday, when 17-year-old Steven Alston Jr. shot his classmate in a school bathroom at Magruder High School. Law enforcement wasn’t notified about the shooting until the victim was discovered between class periods and brought to the school nurse. When police arrived at the school, they found the shooter in a classroom with his gun, which he had disassembled, and a magazine holding nine rounds of ammunition. The shooter’s classmate remains in the hospital in critical condition.
“This was deeply felt across the entire system—and it was a wake up call on a number of different levels,” Montgomery councilman Gabe Albornoz, a Democrat, told the Washington Free Beacon. “This was the first time there had been a gun incident where a gun was fired within a school during the school day in the history of our school system.”
St. Mary’s County sheriff Tim Cameron told the Free Beacon that his county’s School Resource Officer program, virtually identical to the program Montgomery County scrapped, is an important component of safety and security in schools.
“The idea of the SRO is to prevent the event from ever happening—to stop the event before it actually occurs,” Cameron said. “I can’t say what would’ve happened, but I sure would have liked to have the opportunity for an SRO to have been in that school and perhaps prevented that.”
Following anti-police protests that swept the country in response to the murder of George Floyd, Montgomery County and more than 50 school districts nationwide dumped police programs. Montgomery is not the first to realize the decision put students at risk.
Last fall lawmakers in Alexandria, Va., held an emergency session after a string of violent incidents at the start of the school year. The public school system voted to reinstate armed officers after a student brought a loaded gun into Alexandria City High School. And Milwaukee Public Schools unanimously blocked officers from patrolling campuses in June 2020—but in the first eight weeks of the following school year, administrators called police more than 200 times.
Clyde Boatwright, the president of Maryland’s Fraternal Order of Police, told the Free Beacon that SROs are necessary to keep students safe. Without them, “gangs will be prevalent, assaults will be prevalent, and then there’s going to be a rush to try to insert officers back in the building to stabilize the building.”
“Just the mere presence of a police officer deters a lot of crime,” Boatwright said.
Albornoz said now there is growing support in his county for reinstating the SRO program.
“There’s no question that there’s an interest, especially in the short-term, in having more police presence,” Albornoz said. “And there are conversations going on right now in meetings being held between law enforcement, schools, health and human services, and key partners and stakeholders to determine whether or not there should be a police presence beyond just these two weeks as well.”
Boatwright said activists pushing to remove police from schools are acting against the interest of the majority.
“The loud minority should not have a say that directly affects the greater majority of people who actually want safe schools,” Boatwright said.
Garland’s memo, issued in October, instructed “the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district,” in order “to facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats.”
The attorney general’s directions were inspired in large part by a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) citing a number of incidents and arguing that some of them verged on domestic terrorism.
Both the incidents themselves and the label have come under significant scrutiny. Sixteen of the 24 examples listed by the NSBA constituted tense verbal altercations, which did not include physical threats. And the remaining examples, if criminal, fall squarely under local and state jurisdiction. One of the instances pointed to by the NSBA was the arrest of Scott Smith, the father of a sexual-assault victim in Loudoun County, Va. None of these, critics say, fall under the category of “domestic terrorism,” or even fit within the Bureau’s purview.
The NSBA has apologized for the letter, having seen significant membership losses as a result of it. Since its release, 17 state school-board associations have left the NSBA and 27 have publicly condemned it.
Adam Lee is a former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond division and national executive for the FBI’s public-corruption and civil-rights programs. He oversaw the FBI’s involvement in the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 and even interviewed with former president Donald Trump to replace James Comey as director of the FBI.
Lee called the memo “pretty rare,” in an interview with National Review, noting that in his long tenure at the Bureau, he only saw a couple of items like it. Of even more concern to Lee was the fact that “the only way that [the memo] is hitting FBI jurisdiction at all is under the rubric of domestic terrorism.” According to Lee, the bureau’s domestic-terrorism program, which is held within its counterrorism division, includes resources and permission structures that he’d be concerned to see brought to bear against Americans.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
“The counterterrorism division’s incredible capabilities were built to target foreign terrorist organizations under Title 50, which is all the PATRIOT Act enabling statutes. It is a juggernaut and has saved countless American lives,” explained Lee.
But, he added, “it is a scary prospect to turn those capabilities inward on U.S. persons. The Bureau is bound by the constitutional protections which all law enforcement in America is rightly constrained by.”
Lee doesn’t “have concerns that FBI professionals will run out and start violating core constitutional principles,” but he submits that “the worrisome dimension of tagging Americans as domestic terrorists is the scrutiny it brings and the resulting data collection and assessments of the counterterrorism division. Americans should be confident that, absent an existing predicate of criminality, the government has no interest in their personal activities.”
Lee’s concerns were echoed by Bill Corbett, a retired supervisory agent who worked on national security and criminal matters for the Bureau. He told National Review that “it doesn’t seem like, substantively, there’s really anything. I don’t think that anyone’s seen any incidents of actual organized violence for political ends that might fit in that rubric of terrorism.”
Corbett was particularly surprised that even after the NSBA apologized for its letter, Garland declined to back down from his memo and the instructions therein during hearings on Capitol Hill. In rebuffing calls to rescind his memo, Garland claimed it was only partially motivated by the letter and cited unspecified media reports as the other motivator. Corbett emphasized the ways in which the memo might further undermine confidence in the FBI and federal law enforcement more generally, arguing that it constituted a betrayal of trust and an “encroachment into the public square, into First Amendment spaces, and we’re doing it because of safety and security.”
“It turns out that was sort of an empty, politically-loaded claim,” he observed, calling it a “black eye” for Garland’s DOJ that “quickly kind of collapsed in on itself.”
Corbett was, however, encouraged by reporting from the Daily Caller that FBI director Christopher Wray had told a group of former agents that the FBI would stay in its lane and refrain from any behavior that might have a chilling effect on speech about educational policy. The Bureau has, however, created a “threat tag” for data collection on threats against schools and officials, but Lee and Corbett both downplayed them as direct threats to Americans’ civil liberties, describing them as a sorting mechanism.
The downstream effects, however, could be somewhat more pronounced. the tags are “a mechanism just for general bookkeeping, passively,” said Corbett. “But it also has an ability of kind of chilling people because this isn’t the Department of Agriculture here, this is the FBI,” an agency capable of investigating and jailing Americans. As such, Corbett argues that anything, even something seemingly innocuous like creating a threat tag, “has to pass the sniff test.”
Lee concurred, calling the tags themselves a “passive way of compiling data around a threat issue to determine its scope,” but he also acknowledged that “it is fair to call the creation of a tag follow-through and, depending on what the data reveal to FBI analysts, it could foretell further steps for the FBI.”
He also expressed concerns over not just the appearance of political bias, but its consequences on Bureau behavior. “It is essential that FBI leadership remain politically agnostic and actively resist the pressures of political actors within government. The vast majority of my career was spent in field assignments; the special agents I worked alongside for nearly a quarter-century are the most honorable among us,” said Lee.
And yet, he nevertheless observed, “even those street agents with the highest integrity, however, are still working a mission dictated to them by leadership.”
The Democrat is running against Trump while Virginia voters worry about the education of their kids.
When Terry McAuliffe won the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia, he probably expected to defeat Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin without breaking a sweat. McAuliffe is a former Virginia governor with decades of political experience and countless connections. Youngkin began the race with little political experience and less name recognition. Yet McAuliffe clearly is sweating the gubernatorial race, and for good reason. The polls show Youngkin surging to a tie with him and suggest that the Republican is making inroads among crucial voter blocs whose support McAuliffe can’t afford to lose. According to a Monmouth University poll published October 20, for example, Youngkin has gained considerable support among independents and women:
The biggest swing in support from Monmouth’s last poll comes from independent voters, registering a 48% to 39% lead for Youngkin now compared with a 37% to 46% deficit in September. Youngkin has also cut into McAuliffe’s advantage with women voters. The Democrat currently has a narrow edge among women (47% to 43%), down from a sizable 14-point lead last month (52% to 38%).
In addition, Republicans are far more engaged and are widening their enthusiasm advantage:
This metric stood at a 13-point Republican advantage in prior polls — 34% GOP to 21% Democrat in August and 44% to 31% in September. That disparity has grown to a 23-point chasm in the current poll — 49% GOP to 26% Democrat.
These numbers clearly indicate that Youngkin enjoys growing momentum at a point in the race when McAuliffe has little time to turn the tide. Normally, the presence of a recently-elected Democrat in the White House could offer some assistance, but President Biden’s approval numbers are underwater by nearly 10 points according to the RealClearPolitics average. If Biden campaigns for McAuliffe next week it will likely depress Democratic enthusiasm. Nor is it helpful that the only black politician ever elected governor in Virginia, Douglas Wilder, has chastised the McAuliffe campaign for illegally playing an electioneering ad featuring Vice President Harris in black churches. The Washington Examiner reports that Wilder said, “If this is legal, then it’s surprising to me.”
Former president Obama has also cut an ad for McAuliffe in addition to campaigning with him on Saturday. Even if this increases the number of votes McAuliffe receives, it’s unlikely to be enough to offset his politically untenable position on public education. His campaign has failed to overcome the ill will he created among voters by declaring, during the final gubernatorial debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” McAuliffe has attempted to spin his way out of that blunder, but the voters are just not able to unhear that startling assertion. He is now trying to change the subject to … Trump. In a recent interview with WJLA 7News he responded to a question about the proper role of parents in education with a 237-word periphrasis ending thus:
Glenn Youngkin has a Donald Trump Betsey DeVos plan. He has said publicly many times he will take money out of public schools and put them into private. The Washington Post just did an editorial and three independent reviews have been done on Glenn’s plan: 43,000 teachers will be cut in Virginia.
WJLA reporter Nick Minock put this to Youngkin who dismissed it as a sign of desperation:
I believe Terry McAuliffe is doing what you would expect from a 43-year career political operative when he sees the race slipping away is he doesn’t want to run against me. He wants to do anything he can to change this to a race against somebody else. And the reality is that it’s Glenn Youngkin on the ballot.
This description of McAuliffe’s campaign is all too accurate. During one 12-minute CNN interview conducted on October 10, he mentioned former President Trump no fewer than 18 times. This got so awkward that host Dana Bash joked, “I’m glad I have two cups [of coffee] here, so I can keep drinking when you mention Donald Trump’s name.” He rarely makes a speech without calling Glenn Youngkin “a Trump wannabe.” And, when asked about his controversial contention that parents should not tell schools what to teach, he invariably avoids answering the question by reciting the conspiracy theory about Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. This makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that Youngkin is correct about McAuliffe’s increasing desperation.
Perhaps the most embarrassingly desperate act of the McAuliffe campaign, however, was its ridiculous attempt to smear Youngkin as a sleazy showbiz crook who somehow bilked singer Taylor Swift. The Daily Beast informs us that the McAuliffe campaign actually invested in a series of digital ads on Facebook in which the Democratic gubernatorial candidate asks, “Did you know that Republican candidate for governor, Glenn Youngkin, helped buy Taylor Swift’s masters out from under her when he was co-CEO of the Carlyle Group?” This blockbuster revelation, in the unlikely event that it is true, presumably sewed up the Taylor Swift constituency. It isn’t clear, however, that this burning issue will be enough to get McAuliffe over the top in the Old Dominion.
In the end, McAuliffe’s last best hope is that the federal bureaucrats who have colonized northern Virginia will vote in large enough numbers to save him. That’s how he won in 2013. In 2021, however, those voters have something in common with Youngkin’s supporters — they are parents who want their children educated rather than indoctrinated. Moreover, many of the school board protests that have made national news occurred in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in northern Virginia. Most of those protests have been against the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools. Glenn Youngkin has pledged to ban the teaching of CRT on his first day in office if elected governor.
A Fox News poll published on October 14 found that a 57 percent of Virginia’s parents believe they should tell schools what to teach, and that only 40 percent of likely voters agree with McAuliffe’s stated position. If these numbers accurately reflect the attitude of the Commonwealth’s voters, particularly as they relate to those residing in the state’s northern counties, it is entirely possible that Virginia is about to send former Gov. McAuliffe and the Democratic Party in general to school.
And the need for a conservative education agenda
A single exchange may decide the Virginia governor’s race. At one point during a September 28 debate, Republican Glenn Youngkin slammed his opponent, former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe, for vetoing a 2017 bill that would have allowed parents to remove their children from courses studying sexually explicit material. McAuliffe shrugged off the criticism. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” he said.
If you live in Virginia, as I do, then you have heard McAuliffe saying those words approximately a gazillion times on television, where they are replayed ad nauseam in one of Youngkin’s most effective attack ads. The former Carlyle Group executive and political newcomer clearly believes that grassroots outrage at the educational system will provide him the winning margin in what is now a tossup election. On the banner of Youngkin’s website is a tab that reads “Parents Matter.” Among the items in his “day one game plan” is a promise to ban instruction in “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). “This is no longer a campaign,” Youngkin recently told a crowd in Winchester, Va., according to the New York Times. “This is a movement. It’s a movement led by parents.”
It sure is. The question is where the movement is going. So far, the revolt over politically correct and anti-American curricula has produced more heat than light. Loudoun County, Va., the epicenter of this latest populist rebellion, has become a stand-in for national polarization and tribalism, as the left-leaning school board engages in bitter fights with well-organized parents. Several states already have banned CRT, including materials based on the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” a factitious revision of U.S. history whose absurd premise is that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s politicized Justice Department has promised to investigate threats against school boards and educators. No one seems able to agree on what, exactly, CRT is, but that doesn’t really matter for either side. What matters is the fight.
If it propels Youngkin to Richmond, then, the debate over education may end up looking like a wasted opportunity, a moment for serious thought and policy creativity that was frittered away in exercises of mutual fear, loathing, and contempt. For example: Even if we can agree on a definition of CRT that doesn’t inadvertently include fair-minded social studies in slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement, expunging this balkanizing and corrosive ideology from schools is just a first step. There is more to be done.
Yet the rest of Youngkin’s education platform is vague. It includes keeping schools open, “Restoring High Expectations & Getting Every Student College or Career Ready,” “Rebuilding Crumbling Schools, Raising Teacher Pay, & Investing in Special Education Programs,” and “Creating at least 20 New Innovation Charter Schools across the K-12 Spectrum to Provide Choice.” In a July speech, Youngkin pledged to retain advanced math courses and reimpose pre-McAuliffe standards.
This smallball is not new. Of the four character-shaping institutions of family, faith, neighborhood, and school, conservatives have had the least to say about education. They lament its sorry state. They say it is not a federal responsibility even though the Department of Education remains standing after both Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich vowed to eliminate it, and no one calls for the repeal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. They rightfully and productively expand homeschooling and school choice, without paying close enough attention to the 90 percent of students who attend some 100,000 K-12 public schools across the country. They somewhat reluctantly went along with George W. Bush’s efforts to impose school standards in the 2000s but did not know where to turn after the collapse of the test-based accountability model of education reform.
Former secretary of education William J. Bennett often speaks of the “three Cs”: choice, content, and character. The Youngkin plan gestures toward choice, issues vague calls for less politicized, more rigorous content, and overlooks character entirely. This final omission is a shame because, in its malign and counterproductive way, CRT or “antiracist” curriculum is itself a form of character education.
Progressives have long treated the public school as the place where children receive the knowledge, traits, and habits necessary for life in a modern democracy. Today, in the worldview of the education establishment—what Bennett calls “the Blob”—that means teaching to the lowest common denominator and avoiding or downplaying assessments under which some students fall short. It means inducing feelings, depending on the student, of shame or self-esteem. It means reducing individuals to physical characteristics, fostering the idea that these characteristics determine most if not all life outcomes, and dividing the world between oppressor and oppressed. Is it any wonder that the institutions premised on such ideas tend to mold individuals with guilt-ridden, suspicious, agonistic, fragile characters who can’t read or write or perform basic math?
Ambitious conservatives have to think bigger. Try improving teacher quality through licensing reform. Charter schools can be excellent, but what about incentivizing learning pods and investing heavily in Career and Technical Education? Last year, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Frederick M. Hess sketched out a fulsome education agenda in the pages of National Affairs. The ideas are there. Someone needs to pick them up.
And soon. In the absence of leadership that provides alternatives to liberal programs, conservatives assume a negative attitude and defensive crouch on issue after issue. Education is no exception. Progressive outrages spawn populist backlashes that may block the most egregious initiatives and embarrass their most radical proponents, but in the end not much changes. Why? Because conservatives are unable to agree on specific and lasting measures to reshape the institutional structure in ways that improve social conditions and restore civil peace. This isn’t conjecture. This is the failure to repeal Obamacare in 2017.
“A populist upsurge always points to very real problems that ought to be on our political agenda,” wrote Irving Kristol in 1972. “But populism itself usually misperceives these problems, and the solutions it proposes are, more often than not, illusory.” It would be a partial and ultimately unsatisfactory outcome if the parental revolt over the high-handedness and lunatic wokism of the educational system exhausts itself, like the Tea Party movement of the 2010s, in a combination of electoral victory and policy defeat. Time for Glenn Youngkin to hit the books.