Will Education Be Bushwhacked?What will the George W. Bush presidency mean for educational issues? Whatever he does, we know the voucher issue is high on his agenda. Conservatives aren’t the only ones to embrace vouchers. A Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies survey says that increasing numbers of African Americans — as many as 40 percent — support vouchers. And, in Washington, D.C., a pro-voucher group is running a set of heart-stirring commercials starring working class Black folks who say their children deserve a quality education.
There’s a problem here. Surveys simply ask people if they favor vouchers. They don’t ask if people prefer vouchers to improving the public schools. And they don’t explain the pros and cons of voucher programs, especially for children with special needs or disciplinary issues.
Vouchers have been a cornerstone of the Bush social agenda, but even those African Americans who support vouchers would do so with some reservations. They recognize the agenda for what it is worth, which is an effort to reduce the federal government’s role in various aspects of our lives. And while they might embrace vouchers, they look askance at other parts of the conservative agenda. Yet the voucher movement has momentum, more so now that Bush has prevailed in the presidential contest. From where I sit, K-12 education might be Bushwhacked by the voucher agenda.
The bigger concern with the Bush presidency, though, is the extent to which Bush would minimize government spending so that he can implement an ill-advised $1.3 trillion tax cut. Such a cut is likely to affect federal spending in other sectors, including education, where billions were allocated as aspects of higher education expenditures, including student financial assistance, research and program development. All the funds don’t come from the Department of Education. The Departments of Labor, Energy, and Health and Human Services provide sizeable support for education. Imagine the effect of an across-the-board spending cut to accommodate the tax cut! Such a spending cut could Bushwhack higher education, especially those at the periphery of higher education.
When this is combined with the Bush aversion to affirmative action (in the presidential debates he babbled on about “affirmative access” but did not articulate his support for even the limited Supreme-Court sanctioned affirmative action), it spells bad news for African Americans. The University of Michigan victory notwithstanding, this current Supreme Court, brimming over with blather and bias, does not like affirmative action, and Bush appointments would be likely to sway the court away from affirmative fairness even further. At the same time, Bush appointments in the Department of Education may also swing public policy away from affirmative action. Or, if they are too busy implementing other parts of the conservative agenda, they may decide to let the status quo of affirmative action prevail, if only in the short run.
Bush has said that he wants to be the president of all the people. But he is stuck somewhere between a rock and a hard place in his own party.
On one hand, he has the rabidly conservative forces whose rhetoric has so forcefully separated African Americans from the Republican party that Bush got a scant 9 percent of our vote in the election. On the other hand, Bush has earned the respect of many Texas African Americans, and has exhibited a willingness to hear from the African American community as evidenced by his December “preacher meeting.” (Of course, he didn’t meet with White preachers, which may speak to the strange way he views political power in the African American community). And, with his appointments of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, Bush has indicated that he is open to the reality of African American excellence. From where I sit, he is being pulled between what is right (morally, not politically) and what is White. He can’t be the president of all the people and pander to people like Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
There is ideology, and then there is reality. Ideology suggests that George W. Bush is bad news to Black folks, and especially to our educational and economic interests. Shrinking the size of government means shrinking the size of the education pot and eliminating programs that markets are not likely to create. A devotion to markets suggests advocacy of vouchers, no matter how many families are marginalized by the privatization of education.
Right wing rhetoric suggests that affirmative action will be further weakened or even dismantled.
Reality suggests that Bush may want to improve his perception among African Americans and eliminating affirmative action is not the way to do so. To the extent that President-elect Bush pays attention to his advisors of color, he may keep his Bushwhacking to a minimum. Still, his selection of African American antagonist John Ashcroft, the former Republican senator from Missouri, as Attorney General suggests that Bush isn’t shy about Bushwhacking our civil rights and voting rights. Will he Bushwhack education, too?
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