Pfawf Report Exposes Disturbing Agenda Behind Attacks On Public Education

For nearly fifty years, school voucher supporters have worked hard to sell vouchers as a vehicle to improve low-performing schools in urban and rural areas. Yet beneath the veneer of the modern voucher movement is a disturbing and far-reaching agenda. A report released today examines some of the individuals and institutions that have been the driving force behind the voucher movement and the strategies they have used to put a compassionate public face on their privatization agenda.

The new report, The Voucher Veneer: The Deeper Agenda to Privatize Public Education, is authored by People For the American Way Foundation. The report focuses on a network of Religious Right groups, free-market economists, ultraconservative columnists and others who are using vouchers as a vehicle to achieve their ultimate goal of privatizing most or all of the public education system.

The Voucher Veneer notes that while advocates have adopted an incremental strategy that includes vouchers, their long-term goal is to make all schooling an activity supplied by private sources.

As The Voucher Veneer explains, the voucher movement has steadily progressed since economist Milton Friedman first proposed a privatized system in 1955. Since then, privatization advocates have made a serious effort to bring about change from within the corridors of power. While in more recent times these forces have learned to modify their message so as to make it more palatable to a public wary of vouchers, the goal has remained the same.

“Over the years there has been a systematic attack on our public education system by some very influential and ultra-conservative elements of the voucher movement,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “In many cases, it has been primarily these elements who have funded efforts to broaden support for vouchers, often under the guise of encouraging public school reform.”

The extreme views of some influential voucher supporters are detailed in the report and are disturbing in their implications.

  • For example, Friedman’s original proposal envisioned a voucher system that was universal and open to students from even the wealthiest families. He has called for “privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction of all educational service is rendered to individuals by private enterprises.”
  • Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, has called vouchers the “way to privatize schooling,” and has predicted that “[p]ilot voucher programs for the urban poor will lead the way to statewide universal voucher plans. Soon, most government schools will be converted into private schools or simply close their doors.”
  • The public statements of David Brennan, an influential Ohio businessman and the author of Cleveland’s voucher law, is revealing. Brennan has stated that “Education is first, last and always a business.”
  • U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), an ardent voucher supporter, has explained how his appointment to the House education committee would advance the privatization agenda. “I think it’s a lot easier to kill the beast when you get in the cave.”

    The Voucher Veneer is one of a series of reports on vouchers, tuition tax credits, the voucher movement and other important issues in education.

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