A friend of Instapundit Glenn Reynolds is probably indicative of a growing feeling out there in the population:
A friend writes: “Speaking as a parent who had to drastically reduce his own work hours (and earnings) to substitute-teach for free all year while the school system sat largely unused and teachers and administrators still drew a salary funded by the reduced earnings of families statewide; i’m sure I speak for many parents when I say: they can shove this summer school idea up their nonessential asses.”
Some number of those who feel that way will recognize the money-grab component. The initial demand is borrowed federal money to pay states and municipalities to pay public school teachers to spend a portion of their paid summer vacations providing services they weren’t able (or willing) to provide during their working months. In the private sector, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a business to offer that supplemental product free of charge, especially for reliable customers with whom they’re likely to have very profitable relationships for more than a decade.
Maybe the number of voters who are sufficiently aware to spot this will grow through our pandemic experience.
But let’s turn to Reynolds’s great advice at the end of his post:
Public schools have gone a long way to convince parents that they’re (1) nonessential, and (2) composed of and run by people who have contempt for parents and taxpayers. This is a huge opportunity for Republicans. If they’re smart, that is.
Unfortunately, to my experience, Republicans have trouble with that sweet-spot of thinking of voters as constituencies to be courted, especially when their activist ranks have been beaten down by years or decades of hopelessness (like Rhode Island). Depending what faction they’re from, Republicans and conservatives tend to concentrate on one of the following:
- Getting along with Democrats
- Proving that they’re different from other Republicans
- Or indulging in belligerence against Democrats and those other Republicans who want to be differentiated from them
In fairness to those who want to add a fourth category to the above list, school choice can be a heavy lift. Basically, you have to get parents to see that they’ve been poorly serving their children by putting them under the thumb of political forces (mainly teachers unions). That raises very strong emotions, and some of us active on the local front can attest that the politicos who control government and are friendly with the news media can turn those emotions against the people who are pointing out the problem.
You can convince parents that they’re being poorly served, and they’ll get angry, but then they’ll be offered a narrative that they’ll find much more comfortable: They don’t have to do anything crazy like reorder their budgets to afford private schools or become rebel activists looking for school choice or a stronger voice against the teachers unions. The blame, they’re told, actually belongs on those greedy neighbors of theirs who want to take money away from schools to save a few bucks on their taxes or on their own kids’ elite private schools. If they’d just pony up for summer courses, all can be well, and without much friction or guilt.
Will this narrative vulnerability still hold in the face of the COVID response’s educational wasteland? It would be nice if somebody would take some sort of action to help us find out.