When the GOP’s hostility towards public schools becomes more overt

WHEN THE GOP’S HOSTILITY TOWARDS PUBLIC SCHOOLS BECOMES MORE OVERT…. Just last week, Rick Santorum brought his presidential ambitions to New Hampshire, and after targeting the usual suspects, the former senator turned his fire on … public schools.

“Just call them what they are,” Santorum said. “Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.”

He’s not alone. Reuters reported yesterday that several other Republicans considering presidential runs blasted public schools at a home-schooling rally in Iowa.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul told the crowd government wants “absolute control” of the “indoctrination” of children. Paul spoke along with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Georgia businessman Herman Cain.

“The public school system now is a propaganda machine,” Paul said, prompting applause from the crowd of hundreds of home schooling families. “They start with our kids even in kindergarten, teaching them about family values, sexual education, gun rights, environmentalism — and they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American.”

Bachmann said home schooling is the “essence” of freedom and liberty. “It’s about knowing our children better than the state knows our children,” she said.

For his part, Cain said there should be no government involvement in education at any level. He wasn’t kidding.

To be sure, Bachmann, Paul, and Cain are not exactly the top tier of the 2012 GOP field, and strange, borderline-fringe candidates can be expected to take radical positions.

But Santorum is also blasting the existence of public schools, and this 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.

Keep in mind, polls show that the American mainstream considers the public education system one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. When asked what areas of the public sector most deserve budget cuts, schools invariably come in last.

Indeed, Republican pollsters have advised GOP candidates repeatedly in recent years to avoid calling for the end of the federal Department of Education, largely because it gives the appearance of hostility towards public education, which is thought to be an electoral loser for Republicans.

And yet, here we are. Republicans aren’t just criticizing public schools, they’re overtly calling for the institution’s complete elimination. This isn’t something they’re embarrassed about; these GOP voices are stating the goal plainly, as if there’s a genuine appetite among voters to scrap the entirety of the American public education system.

All of this, by the way, comes against the backdrop of Republican governors slashing funds for public schools, and even the reinvigoration of the school voucher movement, which has been largely dormant for years.

This seems like an important opportunity for Democrats — labeling the GOP as the party that’s explicitly hostile towards public schools would hurt Republicans, and it happens to be true.