When congressional Republicans ignored President Obama's call for universal Pre-K, it wasn't too big of a surprise. GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have a variety of policy priorities, most of which focus on slashing public investments, not increasing them. The public seemed to like the White House's idea, but it was quickly forgotten inside the Beltway in the face of Republican indifference.
At the state level, however, some policymakers, including many on the right, nevertheless take the issue at least somewhat seriously. Even in Texas, one of the reddest of the red states, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has made this a priority, telling lawmakers in Austin in February, "We must improve early education."
As the Texas Associated Press reported
, there's apparently some disagreement on the issue.
Advisers to Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick described a major bipartisan pre-K initiative as socialist and keeping children in a 'Godless environment' in a letter sent to lawmakers Tuesday. The letter was a rebuke over a preschool push being led by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, whose office responded by defending its plan while not addressing the criticism. It was written by a "grassroots advisory" board of conservative activists that Patrick, a tea party leader, assembled upon taking office in January.
"We are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers' day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade," the letter said.
The lieutenant governor's hand-picked panel went on to compare preschool to programs "historically promoted in socialistic countries, not free societies which respect parental rights."
It's important to emphasize that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) says he didn't know what his advisory board was up to and the panel's condemnation was "unsolicited."
This may seem rudimentary to some folk, but it's important nonetheless: no matter what arguments conservatives come up with to resist or oppose this or that effort to improve public education, the threshold question to ask them is whether they believe in public education at all. It's really not something you can take for granted these days, and I'm not being snarky about this or adopting some ideological definition of "believe in" or "public." [...] Regular old K-12 public schools also "remove" children from religious schools, or from home-schooling, or from other Godly Environments. So there's nothing you can do to placate these people on education issues, other than agreeing to abolish public schools altogether.
I had the same reaction to the Texas story. In fact, as we discussed
in February, a surprising number of Republican candidates and media figures have suggested that public schools simply should not exist, and Dan Patrick's far-right advisory board seems to be thinking along these lines.
As for the dispute in Austin, let's also not forget that Texas' Republican governor isn't exactly pushing a progressive, ambitious idea: Abbott doesn't even want to expand access or eligibility to preschool in the state -- to the disappointment of Democrats who hoped for a broader policy, the governor is only talking about spending a little more to improve existing programs.
It's hardly the stuff of "socialistic countries."