by Marc Scribner
Every morning, I pass through Union Station, a majestic restored train station, on my way to work at Americans United.
Union Station contains a stop for the Washington, D.C., subway, the Metro. Lately, I’ve noticed huge posters plastered all over the station walls. They depict pictures of smiling (mostly minority) children demanding to know why Congress won’t give them “scholarships” to attend private schools.
The posters plug a Web site called voicesofschoolchoice.org. At first glance, you would assume this was a project of African-American parents in the District of Columbia who want to see the city’s federally funded voucher plan reauthorized. (The plan was authorized for five years in 2004. Recently, the Senate voted against extending it.)
If you go to the site and scroll down to the very bottom, however, in barely legible, tiny type, you learn the truth: Voices of School Choice is a project of the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank that works to abolish as many government programs as possible.
Two of Heritage’s biggest targets are teachers’ unions and public education. Promoting vouchers and other school privatization schemes gives Heritage an opportunity to take a shot at both at once. So this new campaign isn’t really about helping poor, minority families at all – it’s about promoting Heritage’s right-wing ideology. What a surprise!
Heritage isn’t interested in helping people in need and has consistently taken stands against social programs that lend a hand to the poor, the unemployed, the working class and the elderly.
Consider food stamps. You might have noticed that a lot of people in this country are hurting right now. A lot of jobs have been lost, and many people who never thought it would happen to them have fallen into the social safety net. The New York Times reported last year that the use of food stamps has soared. The newspaper quoted people who never expected to be on this type of public assistance.
What does the Heritage Foundation think about this? Well, Heritage would like to abolish food stamps. It calls for “reforming” (read: abolishing) the program, lambasting it as “a fossil embodying all the errors of the old War on Poverty.”
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at Heritage, helpfully explained in 2007 that many poor people are in fact obese because they eat too much junk food. Their problem is too much food, not a lack of it. (By the way, Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, makes $947,999 per year. No food stamps for him!)
Here are some other things the Heritage Foundation would like to do away with: Head Start, the minimum wage, Medicaid and Social Security. As a general rule, if it’s a social program, and the government is paying for it, Heritage doesn’t like it.
I realize that people of goodwill can have disagreements about what government should do to alleviate problems like poverty, lack of access to health care and shortages of affordable housing. What I object to is an organization that has done nothing but labor to not just shred, but remove entirely, the social safety net posing as a champion of the downtrodden.
The truth is, Heritage doesn’t give two figs for the poor and struggling families in Washington, D.C. Sure, Heritage plutocrats are more than happy to use images of these children for their own ends, but the organization ought to be honest about what those ends are. They include “reforming” (privatizing) public education.
Ninety percent of America’s school children attend public schools – including lots of low-income kids. Federal funds should go toward improving those schools, not subsidizing religious and other private schools.