After a lengthy dry spell, the subject of American education has again become a major hot button in national politics. Conservatives have mobilized over their hatred of increasing LGBTQ+ acceptance and racially-conscious history lessons, and bills targeting such schooling have already been passed into law by the Texas Legislature. These controversies have reignited the conservative call for “school choice,” and Republicans may soon move closer to achieving their long-time educational goals through the power of their Supreme Court majority.
While the topic of abortion will deservedly be receiving the lion’s share of SCOTUS scrutiny, the conservative court has a far-reaching agenda that is already addressing issues like public education. In the case Carson v. Makin, the main dispute concerns the usage of public funds to subsidize religious private schools in rural Maine. The court will likely utilize this case to decree an unfettered allowance for using taxpayer dollars to sponsor non-public schools, and Republicans nationwide would immediately seize the opportunity to move money away from public education and towards private religious educations through the use of school vouchers.
To help attain this goal, moneyed conservative interest groups are deeply involving themselves in the fight for Texas’s educational future. Hundreds of thousands of conservative Super PAC dollars like those from Christian cellphone company Patriot Mobile have already flooded Texas campaign coffers in support of conservative school boards, resulting in sweeping victories statewide for far-right candidates.
Super PAC funds are also flowing into upcoming State House and Senate primaries, where Republican candidates more supportive of public schools are being lambasted as “beholden to education union bosses” working against Texans’ interests. As detailed in a recent Texas Tribune article, prominent Texas politicians like Senator Ted Cruz have already been hard at work boosting these Super PACs’ preferred candidates to ensure the viability of anti-public education measures like vouchers. In a statement concerning these upcoming primaries, a Cruz spokesman described how the senator “doesn’t hesitate to endorse and support candidates in primaries that will fight for school choice across Texas” because of his belief that school choice is “the most important domestic issue in the country.”
Moving public funds away from public education would be particularly catastrophic in Texas, where the COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated a mass exodus of teachers from the profession due in part to increased dissatisfaction with their salaries and workload. This reduction has been particularly drastic among bilingual teachers, who were switching careers at worrying rates even before the virus appeared.
Bilingual education’s future is made even darker by Governor Greg Abbott’s recent call to challenge the long-standing precedent established in the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe that requires states to educate all children, including undocumented immigrants. If Abbott gets his way, SCOTUS will allow states to ban undocumented children from receiving the academic skills they would need to participate in American life.
Progressive opposition is building against this conservative education movement in Texas. At a recent Dallas campaign event, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke railed against voucher programs that would direct funds away from public classrooms that he believes to be “perhaps the most perfect representation of our democracy that exists.” For the first time, Democrat-aligned political groups are launching get-out-the-vote campaigns in multiple suburban school board contests in order to catch up to the recent Republican mobilization. For now though, right-wing Super PAC money has paid off in sweeping victories statewide, and the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority will remain in power. Thus, a more conservative direction seems likely in the near future. In the meantime, Texas Democrats will continue to strategize about how to successfully stop this conservative surge before the GOP defunds the public schools, bans immigrant children, and irrevocably damages the state’s education system.