The New York Times carried an interesting story about Kansas conservatives and the effort to demonize education even further through linguistics. The article “Public Schools? To Kansas Conservatives They’re ‘Government’ Schools“, really confused me for a bit. Don’t most schools – unless we’re talking about private schools, have some government oversight and funding?
As it turns out, Kansas conservatives, and I would suppose others throughout the United States who are like-minded, do have a deeper purpose for referencing schools as “government” schools.
In Kansas, the legislature and the court system have been engaged in a battle royale over funding inequities. There is little to no desire to raise taxes to support schools; in fact, the current governor is quite proud of budget cuts which resulted in income tax cuts. Under a court-threat to close the schools due to funding inequities, the Kansas legislature seems to have come up with a way to satisfy the courts for the time-being, but the ill-will generated in this bloodbath isn’t over.
Referring to public schools as “government schools” in Kansas is not simply a matter of linguistic semantics. No, it is rebranding a public institution to create negative reactions which, in the final accounting, could very well result in less public funding and less support for the public school system.
But the question I had when I first heard the term “government” schools is this: If the goal is to rid a municipality, a state, or a country of publicly supported and funded schools, then which institutions will be immune?
Here in Lowell many parochial schools receive some support from Title I. Some parochial school students are transported to their school-of-choice via public school bus. Government funding? I think so. Charter Schools also receive public funding in the per-pupil assessment coming from the City. And in parts of the United States, some homeschooled students participate in extracurricular activities or school sports funded through… public funding. Are all of these school “government” schools too?
I believe the purposeful substitution of the term “government” for “public” leaves an intentionally negative connotation, one that is meant to lessen financial support for schools that serve everyone. It is meant to paint hard-working educators as slackers with hands out. It is meant to further the notion that our public school system is irreparably broken and only serves those who are too lazy to go elsewhere.
And what exactly would be the alternative to a “government” school? How about a corporately run school? Do you know of any of those? It’s pretty clear that the issue is not just that the government is spending money, it also is who controls where that money is spent. The people making the funding decisions couldn’t possibly want control of education funding for their own personal benefit could they?
To me, what is happening in Kansas bears a close watch because it could happen anywhere. Even here in Massachusetts.