The not-so-secret war on our public schools.

Don’t be fooled this election year when you hear candidates talk about “school choice.” It sounds good, but it’s really an all-out attack on our public schools by those who would destroy them for profit, at our children’s expense and the expense of the schools that are the heart and soul of our communities.

As a lifelong educator and candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, I urge you to keep an eye out for those buzzwords. The issue is critical, and its outcome may be determined by my race.

Proponents of state funding for private schools say parents need more “choice” in education.  The truth is parents have many choices when it comes to education – neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, innovation schools. But the profiteers want to line their own pockets and slowly starve our public schools to death.

This covert war has been raging for years, but with the rise of extremism and the absence of leadership from our State Department of Education, those who would replace public schools with for-profit schools have started to come out of the woodwork.  Their water-carriers are the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its acolytes in the legislature.  The President of the IFF calls our public schools “grotesque,” and says “The government should not be in the education business.”  One of his loyal followers in the Legislature, Judy Boyle of Midvale, says “Our public schools can use some competition.”

The idea that our public schools are “grotesque” is in itself grotesque; as for “competition,” the only thing that would do would be to weaken and eventually destroy our public schools.

For all of American history, as I taught my students, free public schools have been the foundation of our democracy, and are enshrined in the Constitutions of many states. Idaho’s language reads: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho to establish and maintain a general uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

We can – and will – debate whether the legislature has met its Constitutional mandate, but there is no question that the concept of profit-making schools is anathema to our Constitution and our way of life.

In my 40-plus years of teaching, public education advocacy and mentoring elementary students, I have seen the wisdom of our Constitutional mandate up close and personal.  And I can tell you that it is the very foundation of our society, and our last and best bulwark against authoritarianism and tyranny.

And do not think for a moment that “school choice,” as it is being espoused in my race, is an Idaho idea.  The money comes largely from out-of-state, from the for-profit educational corporations and others who share their agenda.  It is “dark money” in the worst sense of those words.

So don’t be fooled this election year.  And let’s tell those profiteers to go back where they came from.

Terry Gilbert

About Terry Gilbert

Terry Gilbert is a former president of the Idaho Education Association and is a Democratic candidate for state school superintendent.

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