In a dramatic scene from the 2010 film, “Clash of the Titans,” Hades (played by Ralph Fiennes), the God of the Underworld, induces his brother Zeus (Liam Neeson) to action: “Brother, it’s time for the mortals to pay. My child awaits to do your will.”
If you are a follower of Greek mythology or at least a fan of movies about Greek mythology, you know what happens next. After a brief pause for theatrical effect, Neeson utters the famous words: “Release the Kraken!”
You should really take a minute to view this scene. Go ahead, I’ll meet you on the other side.
You may be thinking to yourself – what does the release of a horrible multi-tentacled monster which seeks to destroy everything in its path have to do with public education?
… let me explain.
A day after the citizens of Oklahoma appear to have won the battle over school vouchers for another year, I suggest it’s not time to let down our guard. We must remain vigilant and remember there is a much larger war happening on a national front – with higher stakes and more formidable adversaries.
Like many educators, I was pleased to learn Senator Rob Standridge, R-Norman, was unsuccessful convincing a majority of his Senate colleagues to support the latest iteration of voucher legislation (SB 560). With his bill, Standridge had hoped to move voucher ball down the football field to get closer to the goal line (his metaphor, not mine).
However, understanding his legislation lacked the votes for passage in the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Standridge took a sack in the backfield (to continue his metaphor) and fumbled the ball. Since Thursday was the final day for bills to be approved in committee, the legislation is dead for another year.
Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, also filed three similar bills related to education savings accounts this session, but Standridge’s bill is the only one that advanced. The House has no voucher bills currently on its slate.
I wish we could relax about this whole voucher issue for a while and focus on real challenges involving education in our state, like teacher pay for instance.
Sadly, we cannot.
The truth is the voucher proponents in Oklahoma or in our nation’s capital are not going to just pack up their marbles and go home.
They simply have too much invested in this cause.
Betsy DeVos and a host of wealthy and influential Americans have invested a fortune over the past few decades to influence elections and create policy favorable to their dream of universal school choice in America.
Their icon, Milton Friedman, wrote this about America Public Schools in 1983:
“You cannot make a monopolistic supplier of a service pay much attention to its customers’ wants — especially when it does not get its funds directly from its customers. The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition and give the customers alternatives.”
The folks pushing this vision for American education are not going to rest. And now with three strong-willed, pro-school choice politicians in positions of power in Washington D.C., we can be sure that they are working together to devise a method to “make the mortals pay” for our obstructionism.
If you recall, during his campaign President Trump unveiled his idea for a $20 billion block grant to expand charter and private school options for low-income children.
As Governor, Vice President Pence pushed to make Indiana’s the largest single voucher program in the nation. Today, nearly 60% of Indiana children can qualify for a voucher. The number of students receiving vouchers to attend private and religious schools has ballooned from about 4,000 in 2012 to more than 30,000 in 2016. The cost of the program grew from $15 million to $131 million during that same time period.
As for Betsy DeVos, we know how she feels on the issue of school choice and vouchers. She and her family’s foundations have given Republican legislators over $200 million over the last 20 years to support their cause. From a March 2015 speech:
“Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars. This is pretty straightforward. And it’s how you go from a closed system to an open system that encourages innovation. People deserve choices and options.”
With these three voucher Gods in place and Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress, it seems to be the optimal time for them to “release the Kraken” and punish us mortals.
The “Kraken” I’m referring to is a piece of legislation introduced in January by U.S. Representative Steve King of Iowa.
US House Bill 610 is a legislative beast that, if passed, would dramatically alter the landscape for public schools in America.
Here is a key section from the official summary posted on the website Legiscan: (emphasis mine)
This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states. The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA’s geographical area. From these amounts, each LEA shall: (1) distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child, and (2) do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses. To be eligible to receive a block grant, a state must: (1) comply with education voucher program requirements, and (2) make it lawful for parents of an eligible child to elect to enroll their child in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the state or to home-school their child.
To translate, this bill would dump the 52-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its associated funding streams and replace them with federal block grants for vouchers.
A little background. Many schools in America with a high percentage of students from low-income families receive Title I funding to supplement local and state funding. This funding was originally established by Congress to ensure that students in poor communities were afforded equal access to quality education. In many urban districts, federal Title I funds are in the millions of dollars and are used to pay for additional teachers, support staff, technology, reading resources, transportation costs, and after-school and summer remediation programs.
If House Bill 610 is released by Congress and signed by the President, Title I funding would go away – replaced by a system of block grants awarded to states contingent upon their compliance with federal voucher requirements.
Furthermore, in order to get federal money, a school district (LEA) would have to agree to hand over this money to parents as a voucher. These parents may or may not choose to use this money to attend that public school.
And – this is important – parents could elect to enroll their child in ANY public or private elementary or secondary school in the state or home school their child. States would have no control over what schools they picked.
So, if I wanted to send my kid to the Hades School of Advanced Demonic Studies or to Flat Earth High School, the state would have no ability to stop me from using my voucher to enroll there. Using our tax dollars of course.
Voucher proponents would accuse me of hyperbole or fear mongering with the previous sentences. But, if we are going to open the floodgates for publicly funded vouchers to allow students to attend private Christian schools, it would be unconstitutional to restrict vouchers for other families with disparate religious views.
You know, that sticky First Amendment thing.
I hope most people can see how damaging this new federal legislation would be for local public schools. It would certainly be all it’s Kraken up to be. (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
Anyhow, we will need to follow this legislation closely and ensure our voices are being heard.
In the original Kraken story, the monster slayer and Greek Hero, Perseus, is able to capture the head of Medusa and use it to turn the Kraken into stone and save the day.
It remains to been seen if the Kraken of national vouchers will be able to be defeated as easily.
We do know this. The monster is coming.
“Mr. President, it’s time for the mortals to pay. My child awaits to do your will.”