Having children grow up to be intolerant adults doesn’t just happen. It has to be taught.

And all over the country, hard-right conservatives are finding ways to teach it, whether by embedding it in public school curricula, or diverting public education funds to charters and private schools (via vouchers) that are given ever-widening latitude to implement policies to perpetuate the bigotry. So many of these efforts found dizzying acceleration coinciding with the rise of Donald Trump.

When Classical means Christian Conservative

Under the cover of phrases like “classical” or “traditional” education,” the religious right is bringing a brand of Christian nationalism to the mainstream.

“In most cases…these two terms are code for a lot more than back-to-basics instruction,” says a new report on the proliferation of rightwing charter schools from the Network for Public Education. “They are dog whistles to attract conservative families with Christian nationalist identities anxious to place their children in schools that reflect early and mid- 20th century values, pedagogy, and curriculum.”

The report delves into that movement’s leaders, structure, targets, and funding. It also puts to rest the argument that charter schools offer viable alternatives for lower-income urban families who are unhappy with their local public school.

“The report carefully lays out the case that the new breed of charter schools is designed to attract families with Christian nationalist beliefs,” NPE writes in a brief on the research. “They have student bodies that are whiter and wealthier than other charter schools and district public schools.”

And there are more and more of them.

“Whatever the total number may be, the classical/right-wing sector is rapidly growing,” according to the report. “Forty-seven percent of the schools we identified opened since the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017.”

A Sharp Right Turn: A new breed of charter schools delivers the conservative agenda” is must-reading for anyone concerned about education in the United States.

Church and Saint

While using funds for religious education has been the quiet part up until now, in Oklahoma, they are saying the quiet part loud. Oklahoma officials approved the first Catholic charter school.

Catholic schools have not built a reputation for tolerance. In Columbus, Ohio, a teacher, outed for her same-sex relationship via the obituary of her parent, was fired from Bishop Watterson High School. Teachers at Catholic schools have been fired for being pregnant and not marriedwriting a blog post supporting gay marriage, and even for trying to conceive a child through invitro fertilization. Will firing teachers like this someday be your tax dollars at work?

Seizing school boards—or circumventing them

Conservatives have taken to running candidates for local school boards in record numbers—again, a strategy arising more from a centralized playbook than from the grassroots. The impact can be felt all over but what it’s meant in Sarasota, Florida, offers a clear illustration. An in-depth article from the Hechinger Report looks at that district as an incubator for far-right politics and policies. Its board chair is Bridget Ziegler, a founder of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has made “don’t say gay” and “anti-woke” messaging a part of his education agenda, has targeted 14 school board members he intends to replace with a conservative slate.

“We say that Sarasota is Florida’s underground lab, and we’re its non-consenting lab rats,” Zander Moricz, an activist and former student in the district, told the Hechinger Report.

And when the conservatives don’t get the school board they want, they strip it of its powers and shift those powers to a friendly conservative overseer.

About a month after Democrats won control of Ohio’s state school board in November, the legislature moved to removemost of its authority and place it in the hands of the (Republican, of course) governor.

With Great Power, Comes Great Irresponsibility

Once again showing that advocates for charters and vouchers aren’t just trying to give poor kids in lower-quality schools more options, Ohio Republicans are pushing a measure to make vouchers universal with a program that actually exceeds the scholarship amounts set out in the Republican governor’s proposed budget. Families making up to around $135,000 could receive $6,300 for K-12 students and $8,400 in taxpayers’ money for those in grades 9-12 to attend private schools.

All the Right Schools

Let’s see: approval of a publicly-funded Catholic charter school, a dramatic increase in Christian nationalist charter schools, more voucher money available to take to private—including parochial—schools, private and charters able to discriminate based on principles of “faith”–it’s not exactly the republic founded on the separation of church and state.

Where are all of those strict constitutionalists, Founding Father fetishists, and back-to-basic education reformers when you need them?

Oh, right—they’re founding and publicly funding religious education, banning books that fall outside the tenets of their religion, undermining democratically-elected school boards, and very carefully teaching hate to the next generation of Americans.

Donald Cohen
Executive Director

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