Tax cuts and small government remain the bedrock of the Republican party.
The message is seductive, but historically the result is always the same: a later tax increase to resore all those "unnecessary" cuts.
The residue of Betsy DeVos lives on; at least, it appears that way if the Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate has his way.
In a recent speech, Bob Stefanowski unearthed the same populist nonsense that DeVos did when Trump anointed her Education Secretary. It's a wearisome routine but tried and true for populists with little respect for the teaching profession and less so for the teachers themselves.
DeVos recently called for the Department of Education's abolishment, leaving a clear trail to remind us of her disdain for public education.
During her tenure, she referred to public schools as a dead end and, with her husband, worked to promote and fund charter schools in Michigan, most of which became academic disasters. She thought teachers in the wilder West of Montana should have guns to kill grizzlies. DeVos liked neither teachers nor bears. She understood neither very well.
She once referred to Black colleges as pioneers of school choice, apparently forgetting that they developed only because white colleges refused to let Black people enter. She declined to condemn discrimination in private schools, claiming that it should not be a reason for denying government funding. She may not have been a racist, but she should have been able to recognize racism.
There's more—there's always more—but the gist of it is the same as it has always been among so-called education experts:
They've all been to school.
They've all seen teachers teach.
They can all do a better job.
One would think that recent reports about the adverse effects of the pandemic on learning would make people pause and maybe reevaluate their disdain for schools and teachers. How they—and students—survived 2020 is a tribute to all of them. Instead of showing gratitude, however, far-right parental meddling and embattled school boards drive educators out of the profession, making teaching and learning a battle zone and less a cooperative effort.
Bob Stefanowski has learned from DeVos or has undoubtedly drunk the same Trumpian Kool-Aid. Stefanowski is, of course, a populist, and one quality we can always tease out of a populist campaign is the belief that government is too big and taxes are too high. Of course, these are the same people who lose their minds when their Social Security check is late, or town employees don't plow the streets early, well, or often enough.
Stefanowski wants to return power to the people, forgetting they already have it. The democratic process of voting elects boards of education, and the results reflect the political leanings of a town. Meanwhile, teaching and learning from established curricula and seasoned instructors remain within the public school classroom. Someone like Bob Stefanowski doesn't necessarily recognize that fact, choosing instead to view schools as a major city- and town-expenditure (which they are) and vowing to cut property taxes—which, of course, he cannot do any more than his opponent can raise them.
Some claim that schools have become top-heavy with administrators—high schools that once had only a principal and vice-principal now have an administrative wing. But the criticism is over-simplified. In areas like mental health and post-secondary planning, the demands on schools—generally made by taxpayers—have grown exponentially in this century. Counselors of all stripes that used to be luxuries now fulfill a dire need, and a resource officer or two in a school is no longer an anomaly or a luxury. Tax cuts will certainly streamline education, but at what cost?
I don't think Bob Stefanowski is a bad guy, and deep down, he probably wishes Trump and his stooges would disappear. Still, when the candidate makes populist overtures, calls them reforms, and then promises to "fix" Connecticut, his words come eerily close to Make America Great Again. The last guy who promised that didn't do it. I doubt if Bob will either.