Did you see this?

Did You See This?

That was the title of yesterday’s email blast from the US Department of Education.

Indeed, I saw it.

But, as yesterday was a holiday—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—I didn’t read it until after sundown, after the fast, and after making commitments to being a better friend, husband, father and grandfather, and to not getting suckered into the black hole of news that makes my head explode. 

That last commitment lasted about 45 seconds—the time it took me to read the blast. (Note to friends and family: I’m still gonna make good on that other stuff.)

So, what is wrong with the picture above? Bueller? Bueller?

Let’s start here: these, almost daily, blasts coming out of the USDOE and sent to us on our dime look increasingly like state-sponsored propaganda. The main message from this one is:

“Education Freedom Scholarships are the conservative answer to what ails American education.”

Kellyanne Conway and Betsy DeVos as poster girls for “choice” tosses a keg of salt in the wounds that already exist between public education advocates and will haunt the charter school movement for years.

Yes, we believe in the right of parents to “choose” any public school for their children. And our independent, self-managed charter schools represented by our members are excellent exemplars of innovative, community-based public schools open to all comers.

But choice, as defined by Betsy DeVos, Kellyanne Conway and their Education Freedom Scholarships will allow public money to flow to any school, public or private under the guise of “connecting dollars to students.” These talking points could have been written by Grover Norquist, the man who wanted to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Education Freedom Scholarships are vouchers and private/religious school tax incentives by another name, and we cannot be associated with this. Public money should only go to public schools and ALL public schools—district-run and charter—need to be nonsectarian, open to all comers, transparent and dedicated to the development of the skills, knowledge and dispositions necessary for our children to become informed citizens of a democracy and construct productive lives of meaning and purpose.

We need to make allies with other groups fighting for education equity. But we cannot do so as long as we continue to be seen through the prism of privatization and cannot separate ourselves from this version of “choice.” We need legislators to see and understand the work we are doing in our schools, but if that work is subsumed into the narrative of those who are actively looking to undermine public education in the name of freedom then we’re gonna reap a lot of scorn and not a lot of understanding.

Make no mistake: the charter movement is already turning blue in the face from the death embrace of adversaries, all of whom refer to themselves as progressives. And the USDOE just bought itself popcorn, a bullhorn and a ringside seat.

This is madness. 2019-style madness.

Would you like to help us address this madness? Join CPICS

Would you like to help us address this madness in a big way? We’re getting together in the Land of Enchantment for a great conference. Join us.

‘Til then, try to do a better job than I have of avoiding the black hole. And keep up the good fight for our schools.

Steve Zimmerman

Steve Zimmerman is the Director of CPICS


© 2020 Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools

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