Get the Government Out of Our Schools!

If you want a good indicator of the steady drift to the Right of the Republican Party in this century, K-12 education policy is a pretty good place to start. As you may recall, the president nominated and (sort of) elected with the universal and enthusiastic backing of the entire conservative movement made his signal domestic policy initiative (aside from tax cuts!) an education reform law called No Child Left Behind. By the time George W. Bush left office, it was rare to find a Republican politician who did not at some point or another trash NCLB as a godless liberal travesty. Among the more serious conservative types, it was typically touted, along with the Medicare Part D program, as proof W. was no better than his damned RINO tax-raising Trilateral Commission/Planned Parenthood father.

It was, as everyone seems to have forgotten, in no small part the desire to find an alternative state-initiated structure for K-12 education reform–one that wouldn’t have NCLB’s strong federal role or its strict focus on poor and minority kids–that led the business community and Republican governors to spear-head Common Core Standards.

I mention all this because a bill to reauthorize NCLB with “reforms” is about to hit the House floor. The president’s already issued (via OMB) a veto threat, because the bill caps federal education spending and gives states broad discretion to spend it as they see fit, even for non-education priorities; the whole idea of NCLB, of course, was to use federal funds to leverage better state enforcement of their own education standards as they affected the kids most in need of help.

But here’s the interesting thing: the bill is also being attacked from the right because it maintains a federal role in education. Heritage Action has, for example, come out against the bill.

The current trajectory of conservative thinking on K-12 education is definitely towards abolition of any federal role, and possibly towards using “parental choice” to radically reduce the state-and-local government role in schools. If future Republican candidates for president decide they need to show “compassion,” it won’t be in support of public education.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.