It’s National School Choice Week, that annual right-wing P.R. campaign to defund public schools that pretends to really just care about the children. But this year’s NSCW comes with a twist: Amid conservatives’ outcry over history lessons on race and LGBTQ rights and awareness in schools, some proponents of the “educational freedom” movement are pitching it as an antidote to the supposed indoctrination of students by leftie teachers and administrators.
In an interview on Tuesday with Fox News host Harris Faulkner, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott framed “school choice” as a way for parents to give their children a proper education free of woke lessons. “ABC, not CRT—it’s that simple,” said Scott, referring to “critical race theory.” “We need to teach the basics of education. We don’t need to teach people that, because of the color of your skin, you’re an oppressor or a victim.” (Scott introduced a resolution on Monday to officially recognize National School Choice Week. He was joined by many Republican senators, including Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Rick Scott—and a lone Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.)
Ian Kingsbury, of the Educational Freedom Institute, and Jay P. Greene, of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, in December laid the foundation for this new spin on “school choice,” which they argue can “help level the playing field” in the struggle between “conservative families” and “progressive teachers” who want to “proselytize” in the classroom. “All that school choice would do,” the authors wrote for Fox News, “is shift some of the jobs from public schools dominated by Democrats to other schools whose values would be more likely to align with those of the parents in [rural] areas.”
You won’t, however, hear such politicized rhetoric directly from the organizers of this week’s extravaganza, the National School Choice Awareness Foundation, which prefers instead to cloak its highly political aims behind seemingly inoffensive banalities such as, “Every child deserves a quality education.” NSCW organizers claim to “raise positive and equal awareness of traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, and homeschooling,” and many news outlets happily (or ignorantly) play along, offering uncritical coverage of NSCW events that parrots the group’s “positive” messaging. But make no mistake: The goal of NSCW is to gut public education, destroy teachers’ unions, and enrich unregulated private education companies.
“We are nonpolitical,” claims NSCW’s website, but this is demonstrably false. “School choice” has been a staple of conservative politics for decades, and NSCW was launched in 2011 as the brainchild of the Gleason Family Foundation, the conservative philanthropic arm of a machine tool manufacturing company. Media Matters for America reports that the foundation, which “gives to a number of education privatization and Koch-affiliated groups that oppose unions,” spent $1.7 million on NSCW in 2012, and nearly $2.7 million in 2013. According to the latest IRS filing available, from the fiscal year ending in March 2020, its contribution ballooned to nearly $10.4 million.