How Segregation Helped Create The Religious Right and the School Privatization Movement
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Oct 18, 2013 at 01:39:07 PM EST
[note: in response to criticism that accused me of proposing that neo-voucher schemes are bad simply because their conceptual lineage traces to racist privatization schemes of the 1950s, I have rewritten my story introduction (see footnote #1 for my original) and have also added substantial story material to illustrate that the politicized Christian right, which many neo-voucher funded Christian fundamentalist private schools are part of, arose in part from a pro-segregationist, racist backlash - anger over a Carter Administration decision to enforce a 1971 Supreme Court decision that withdrew the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools.]
Introduction: In 1953, a year in advance of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that would rule racially segregated public schools unconstitutional, Georgia Governor Herman Talmage laid the groundwork for a voucher scheme that would privatize Georgia's public schools.

Talmadge and his fellow pro-segregation state governors never implemented that plan, but now - over fifty years later - a shockingly similar neo-voucher scheme, backed by Michelle Rhee's pro-privatization group StudentsFirst, is siphoning taxpayer money off to fund white-dominated wealthy suburban schools and pay for students to attend Christian fundamentalist private schools that bar openly-LGBT students even teach that they are hated by God.

Judging by StudentsFirst's choice for its first two "educators of the year" -- Tea Party-aligned state legislators who have sponsored virulently anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant legislation, the Rhee-backed neo-voucher schemes now operating in twelve U.S. states, which have been accused of fostering a new, anti-gay school segregation regime, are dragging the racist legacy of Southern segregation in tow.

Following the election of New Jersey's new U.S. Senator, Cory Booker, StudentsFirst head Michelle Rhee emitted a series of chirpy congratulatory tweets which proclaimed, among other things, that "education is the civil rights issue of our time".

Rhee might just have a point, but as an article from the October 2013 issue of Rolling Stone explores, through their support for school privatization schemes Rhee and Booker (who enthusiastically endorses StudentsFirst) might not be on the better side of the issue.

In The Hidden War Against Gay Teens, Rolling Stone's Alex Morris explores the growth of taxpayer-funded Christian fundamentalist schools, funded by neo-voucher schemes in 12 US states, that actively practice anti-gay discrimination -- barring LGBT students from attending and even teaching that they are hated by God. Morris crisply explains,

"Georgia, along with 11 other states (Arizona, Pennsylvania, Florida, Rhode Island, Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, New Hampshire, Louisiana and, most recently, Alabama), has adopted laws – sometimes referred to as "neovouchers" – to grant dollar-for-dollar tax credits to people who donate money to provide children with scholarships to private schools. In theory, such a plan has the potential to help a lot of students, but in practice, especially in deeply religious places like Georgia, it has also meant that millions of dollars have been redirected from public funds to privately run Student Scholarship Organizations, which can then funnel the money to schools with strict anti-gay policies. Because the money goes straight to the SSO and never actually enters the public coffers, it's free and clear of being considered a "public fund" – allowing church and state to technically be kept separate. All of which may sound fishy, but consider this: It's fully legal because the laws make it so. And, as the school-choice movement gains ground, it's certain that other states will soon pass similar legislation."
Alex Morris' October 2013 Rolling Stone article also documents viciously anti-gay content taught by these neo-voucher funded Christian fundamentalist schools:
"The Accelerated Christian Education's 11th-grade science materials include a section on "Man's Corruptions," in which students are taught, "In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal." A biology textbook published by the Bob Jones University Press begins a section on homosexuality by quoting Romans and goes on to say that "God calls homosexuality a sin and condemns those who engage in it." Such textbooks, and others with a similar stance on homosexuality, are part of the core curriculum in Georgia's Christian schools."

The Talmadge Plan

So where did these voucher schemes come from ? As it turns out, the original idea seems to trace back to a reactionary plan, hatched by staunch pro-segregationist racists such as Georgia Governor Herman Talmadge, that was never implemented but was designed to privatize all of Georgia's public schools in order to thwart to desegregation mandated by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling.

Earlier this year, I came across a mention so intriguing that I was compelled to break a cardinal rule and buy a new book, at full price. That book was White Flight - Atlanta And The Making Of Modern Conservatism, by Kevin M. Kruse (2005, Princeton University Press).

On page 132, Kevin Kruse describes,

"At the heart of their plan to defend schools segregation, for instance, stood a revolutionary scheme called the "private-school plan." In 1953, a full year before Brown, Governor Talmadge advanced a constitutional amendment giving the general assembly the power to privatize the state's entire system of public education. In the event of a court-ordered desegregation, school buildings would be closed, and students would instead receive grants to attend private, segregated schools. "We can maintain separate schools regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court", Talmadge promised, "by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision."

This is mind boggling, because the mechanism Talmadge envisioned, to protect Georgia's racist regime of segregated schools, is exactly the mechanism now used to channel taxpayer dollars to private schools in twelve states across the union.

Let me explain - in brief, the reason that neo-vouchers have been deemed to be constitutional is that the taxpayer money funding these schemes never actually goes into state coffers; taxpayers, both individuals and corporate, give the tax money, that they would otherwise pay to the state, instead to private nonprofits which disperse scholarships to students.

Court decisions have ruled that these schemes are not funding radically sectarian religious schools (which would be unconstitutional) - they're simply providing scholarship funding that enable students to attend those schools: a dubious and, as a practical point, virtually meaningless distinction.  

It's not even necessary to rely on Kruse' tight scholarship to understand this underlying basic, horrid truth - that a plan hatched over fifty years ago to institutionalize racism, and segregated schools, has recrudesced and is in fact spreading, albeit in a nominally "non-racist" guise; here's a video of the late Governor Talmadge himself describing his planned segregationist voucher scheme:

[see my partial transcript at the end of this post]

Kevin Kruse, again from page 132, lays out the intensity of planning that went into the scheme to retain Georgia's segregated schools through a voucher-funded private school system:

"During the 1956 legislative session, for instance, the General Assembly strengthened the plan with several new laws. Legislators laid out a plan to transfer all public-school property and functions to private hands. No detail was left untouched. Procedures for fire marshal examinations of private schools, for instance, were reworded and made to conform to the standards for public ones. Likewise, the legislature amended the state retirement program to ensure that all public-school teachers would maintain their coverage at private institutions. If the courts ordered their schools to desegregate, the governor could thus switch everything to a nominally "private" system without missing a beat."

Then, Kruse drops a bombshell of a thesis - suggesting that this was the origin of the modern school privatization movement, at least in Southern states:  

"As the private-school pan made clear, massive resistance had the potential to reshape the political and social landscape of the South. Although its proponents framed their resistance as a way to stop the clock on racial change and preserve the customs of the past, in truth the movement represented the first significant step toward a new conservative politics more attuned to the future. For it was in their challenge to integration that white southerners in Atlanta, and across the region, first considered major changes that they otherwise might never have contemplated--including complete abandonment of public education, and introduction of a system of tax breaks and tuition grants to fund the scheme."

Now, over a half century later, Talmadge's scheme is being implemented, and in many of the states which had active segregation back in Talmadge's day.

The Road To Neo-Voucher Segregation

The Talmadge plan would have created an entire regime of private schools by government fiat. But it was never implemented -- the historical arc of Southern "massive resistance" against desegregation took another route.

Following the public relations debacle of the 1925 Scopes Trial, Protestant fundamentalism retreated from the public sphere, to build its own private schools and institutions of higher learning. But eventually, events caught up with the movement:

Many who study the modern religious right as an American political movement that arose in the latter half of the 20th Century attribute its emergence, in part, to anger over the aftermath of a 1971 Supreme Court decision, Green v. Connally, which ruled the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code does not grant tax-exempt status (or allow for tax deductible contributions) to private schools that practice racial discrimination.

Then in 1975, under the presidential administration of Jimmy Carter, the IRS moved to revoke the tax exempt status of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University - which only dropped its ban on interracial dating in 2000, following an uproar over presidential candidate George W. Bush's visit to the school.

Stung by the Carter Administration's actions, because many conservative evangelicals and even fundamentalists had backed Carter's presidential bid, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals began their long reentry into electoral politics.

As key architect of the religious right Paul Weyrich recounted, "I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation."

Weyrich's admission was subject of an extended treatment by evangelical historian Randall Balmer, who in his 2006 book The Kingdom Come - An Evangelical's Lament - How The Religious Right Distorts The Faith and Threatens America writes,

"In the 1980s, in order to solidify their shift from divorce to abortion, the Religious Right constructed an abortion myth, one accepted by most Americans as true. Simply put, the abortion myth is this: Leaders of the Religious Right would have us believe that their movement began in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Politically conservative evangelical leaders were so morally outraged by the ruling that they instantly shed their apolitical stupor in order to mobilize politically in defense of the sanctity of life....

It's a compelling story, no question about it. Except for one thing: It isn't true.

Although various Roman Catholic groups denounced the ruling, and Christianity Today complained that the Roe decision "runs counter to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages but also to the moral sense of the American people," the vast majority of evangelical leaders said virtually nothing about it"

Balmer describes being invited to a 1990 Washington, D.C. conference, attended by key leaders of the emerging religious right including Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, and Paul Weyrich, at which Weyrich - who since his work with the 1964 Goldwater presidential campaign had sought to draw evangelicals into politics - pegged the pro-segregationist roots of the movement he helped engineer:

"[Weyrich] declared, in effect, that the origins of the Religious Right lay in Green v. Connally rather than Roe v. Wade. I quickly concluded, however, that his story made a great deal of sense. When I was growing up within the evangelical subculture, there was an unmistakably defensive cast to evangelicalism... The IRS attempt to deny tax-exempt status to segregated private schools, then, represented an assault on the evangelical subculture, something that raised an alarm among many evangelical leaders, who mobilized against it.

For his part, Weyrich saw the evangelical discontent over the Bob Jones case as the opening he was looking for to start a new conservative movement using evangelicals as foot soldiers."

Balmer's frontal assault on the pervasive myth, cultivated by the religious right, that the movement arose in opposition to Roe v. Wade has not to this day been fully assimilated into mainstream political awareness, even though the religious right has come to exert a pervasive and even destabilizing impact on American electoral politics.

"During the meeting in Washington, D.C., Weyrich went on to characterize the leaders of the Religious Right as reluctant to take up the abortion cause even close to a decade after the Roe ruling. "I had discussions with all the leading lights of the movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, post–Roe v. Wade," he said, "and they were all arguing that that decision was one more reason why Christians had to isolate themselves from the rest of the world."

"What caused the movement to surface," Weyrich reiterated,"was the federal government's moves against Christian schools." The IRS threat against segregated schools, he said, "enraged the Christian community." That, not abortion, according to Weyrich, was what galvanized politically conservative evangelicals into the Religious Right and goaded them into action. "It was not the other things," he said.


...I cornered Weyrich to make sure I had heard him correctly. He was adamant that, yes, the 1975 action by the IRS against Bob Jones University was responsible for the genesis of the Religious Right in the late 1970s. What about abortion? After mobilizing to defend Bob Jones University and its racially discriminatory policies, Weyrich said, these evangelical leaders held a conference call to discuss strategy. He recalled that someone suggested that they had the makings of a broader political movement—something that Weyrich had been pushing for all along—and asked what other issues they might address. Several callers made suggestions, and then, according to Weyrich, a voice on the end of one of the lines said, "How about abortion?" And that is how abortion was cobbled into the political agenda of the Religious Right."

Summing up, Balmer levels this searing indictment:

"The Religious Right arose as a political movement for the purpose, effectively, of defending racial discrimination at Bob Jones University and at other segregated schools. Whereas evangelical abolitionists of the nineteenth century sought freedom for African Americans, the Religious Right of the late twentieth century organized to perpetuate racial discrimination."

Amidst the tremendously complex architecture of the movement which emerged from that racist backlash Balmer describes, within the movement we know as the "religious right", is a key sector: education.

From the mid-1970s and up to the present, leaders of the movement founded new schools and universities -- such as Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and Pat Robertson's Regent University, and myriad K-12 Christian private schools and academies. Fallwell's and Robertson's schools, and other such fundamentalist institutions of higher learning are now absorbing, each year, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding which, like the funding that flows through neo-voucher programs, is premised on the same thin technical distinction -- that it does not directly fund these schools but, rather, provides students tuition and loan money to attend them.

These institutions tend to champion Young Earth Creationism and deny evolution, and oppose LGBT rights (some quietly, some overtly); and they generally promote the raft of issues dear to the religious right as a movement -- opposition to government taxation and regulation, promotion of Laissez-faire capitalism, opposition to the environmental movement and the feminist movement, and promotion of a Christian nationalist and "biblical" worldview discussed by journalist Frederick Clarkson in a landmark essay published Spring 2007 in Public Eye magazine, History is Powerful - Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters:

"The notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is a central animating element of the ideology of the Christian Right. It touches every aspect of life and culture in this, one of the most successful and powerful political movements in American history. The idea that America's supposed Christian identity has somehow been wrongly taken, and must somehow be restored, permeates the psychology and vision of the entire movement. No understanding of the Christian Right is remotely adequate without this foundational concept.

...through a growing cottage industry of Christian revisionist books and lectures now dominating the curricula of home schools and many private Christian academies, Christian nationalism becomes a central feature of the political identity of children growing up in the movement. The contest for control of the narrative of American history is well underway.


A running refrain in the revisionist narrative is that somehow the original intention of God and the Founding Fathers has been thwarted by some combination of liberals, judicial tyrants, the ACLU, secular humanists, and more. This notion, which seems silly to some, is tremendously powerful in the context of the conservative Christian subculture. It asserts that "the Christians," (however one may define Christians), are the intended rulers of the nation, because that's what God, the Founding Fathers, and by implication, the Constitution, sought to accomplish.

It is a powerful piece of political and religious mythology that feeds into another powerful myth - that Christians are persecuted in the United States by the very forces that have thwarted God's plan for America. The effect is to make people feel that something has been unjustly, unrighteously taken from them - and that that something must be "restored" or "reclaimed."

So, to sum up -- the modern religious right movement which began, per its own key leaders, as a racist backlash against court-mandated desegregation, went on to found fundamentalist schools that - as As Alex Morris' Rolling Stone story lays out - are now receiving, with the enthusiastic backing of Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst, funding through neo-voucher programs, in what amounts to a new, state-supported anti-gay, segregationist private school system.

The principle underlying difference between the privatization plan created in Georgia in the 1950s and the current neo-voucher system, beyond surface distinctions, is this: the Talmdage plan was reactive - it sought to protect the established segregationist order. The neo-voucher-funded fundamentalist schools both establish a new, anti-LGBT segregationist regime but also further a wider project -- the goal of "reclaiming America", and remaking it as the once and future Christian nation.

LGBT Students and Science Last

"In accordance with the Statement of Faith and in recognition of Biblical principles, no "immoral act" or "identifying statements" concerning fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, or pornography, will be tolerated. Such behavior will constitute grounds for expulsion... " -- Official school policy at Cherokee Christian Schools, a Georgia private school currently receiving state tax money under a tuition tax credit program that was expanded in 2011 by the StudentsFirst 2012 "educator of the year" former Georgia state senator "Chip" Rogers.

"Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years. This could not have happened if evolution were true." -- from Bob Jones University Press Life Science text, taught in 7th Grade at Cherokee Christian Schools.

"Most of the private schools are religious... Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation. An economics book used in some high schools holds that the Antichrist — a world ruler predicted in the New Testament — will one day control what is bought and sold." -- May 5, 2012 New York Times story, Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools that focused on the flow of taxpayer money to private religious schools - such as Georgia's tuition tax credit program which was expanded in 2011 with help from the StudentsFirst 2012 "educational reformer of the year", former George State Senator "Chip" Rogers.

"StudentsFirst is a single-issue organization. That means we focus on improving education for kids, and nothing else." - StudentsFirst head Michelle Rhee, June 5, 2013

In 2013 Michelle Rhee's pro-school privatization organization StudentsFirst nominated TN state representative John Ragan, who a year earlier had compared LGBT sex to murder and child-abuse, "Educator of the Year".

In early 2012, Ragan had co-sponsored a Tennessee bill (HB1153) which would have allowed forms of school bullying that expressed "religious, philosophical, or political views." Responding to a January 2012 letter from a Tennessee lesbian high school student who was concerned about the "license to bully" bill, Representative Ragan suggested that LGBT sex was behaviorally similar to rape, murder, child-abuse, and overeating.

After receiving his 2012 StudentsFirst "reformer of the year" nomination, Ragan soldiered on to co-sponsor another TN state legislature bill, the "don't say gay" bill (HB1332), which would have not only blocked discussion of homosexuality in Tennessee schools but also required school officials to tell parents about students who are gay or who simply were suspected of being gay.

It was a notable public relations debacle - Ragan was exposed as a die-hard anti-gay crusader of the religious right and embattled school privatization champion Michelle Rhee incurred the wrath of both LGBT rights advocates, and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (nonetheless, StudentsFirst still supports the nomination.)

In an apparent attempt at PR damage control, in April 2013, StudentsFirst staff member Eric Lerum boasted of StudentsFirsts' alleged support for gay rights, tweeting, "We were 1st ntl edreform org to support anti-bullying, to my knowledge. Whole staff did It Gets Better video."

StudentsFirst continued to stand by its nomination of Ragan, despite his position in the vanguard of Tennessee anti-LGBT legislation, until June 6th, when StudentsFirst head Michelle Rhee wrote, on the StudentsFirst website,

"[John Ragan's] introduction of ill-conceived and harmful legislation including HB 1332 — which would have cultivated a culture of bullying — does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions.

Simply put, we must hold our ‘reformers of the year’ to a higher standard. So let me be very clear — policies that are intended to single out any student based on their sexual orientation and treat them differently are wrong."

But - unnoticed until now - StudentsFirst's 2012 "Educator of the Year", former Georgia state senator "Chip" Rogers was just as problematic, and for similar reasons.:

StudentsFirst's nomination of Rogers as "Education Reformer of the Year" originally came under fire because then-Senator Rogers had sponsored three separate pieces of anti-immigrant bills, "one of which would cut off all state services to illegal immigrants" according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But immigrants were not the only group in Rogers' legislative crosshairs.

Although Tennessee Rep. Ragan's failed antigay legislation earned considerable notoriety, StudentsFirst's "Education Reformer of the Year" for 2012, former Georgia Senate Majority Leader "Chip" Rogers, has arguably played a more substantive role in battling LGBTI rights - by helping expand (see page 10, linked PDF) Georgia's tax credit program that, as reported by the New York Times on January 20, 2013 - channels millions of state tax dollars to virulently anti-gay Georgia private religious schools that use creationist educational curricula filled with inaccuracies, historical revisionism, heavy political slant, denigration of non-Protestant fundamentalist religious beliefs, and bizarre pseudo-scientific claims.

Segregation, revisited

In a statement concerning Rogers' 2012 nomination as "Educator of The Year", StudentsFirst's Vice President Tim Melton praised Rogers' support for "innovative approaches to learning" and declared, "Sen. Rogers has played an invaluable role as a strong and devoted ally in driving education reform initiatives in Georgia."

But as a shocking January 2013 17-page report from the nonprofit Southern Education Foundation detailed, since its establishment in 2008,

"Georgia's tax credit scholarship program has diverted more than $170 million in taxpayer funds to cover the tuition costs of students in private schools during the last four years...  This program of educational tax credits is providing public financing to a large number of private schools in Georgia that have draconian anti-gay policies and practices."

In effect, Georgia's tuition tax credit scheme is financing a rebirth of school segregationism that explicitly targets gays rather than blacks. According to the Southern Education Foundation January 2013 report,

"At least 115 private schools participating in Georgia's tax-funded scholarship program have explicit, severe anti-gay policies or belong to state and national private school associations that promote anti-gay policies and practices among their members. These schools constitute approximately one-fourth of all private schools that are currently affiliated with SSOs in Georgia's tax-funded scholarship program. There is also a larger number of religious schools, many involved in the state tax credit program, that use textbooks and curriculum materials in the classrooms condemning both homosexuality and gays.


These anti-gay policies and practices among tax-supported schools do far more than condemn gay students for who they are. They affirmatively deny gay students (and often other students who may openly tolerate or defend gay students) admission to educational institutions receiving public funds. And, the policies insure that gay students are denied access to tax-funded scholarships at these schools primarily on the basis of the students' identity - not their conduct or performance in school.

In effect, public funds from Georgia's tax credit scholarship program are being denied students in private schools exclusively on the basis of who the students are, who they accept, or what they believe. More broadly, tax funds and the governmental power to validate school programs as suitable for Georgia's children are going to private entities - both private schools and private accrediting agencies - that punish, denounce, and even demonize students in the name of religion solely because they are gay, state that they are homosexual, happen to have same-sex parents or guardians, or express support or tolerance for gay students at school, away from school, or at home."

Neo-Vouchers, Privatization, and a New Civil Rights Movement

In recent years, LGBT rights advocates have explicitly compared the battle for gay rights to the Civil Rights movement and, indeed, Georgia's growing tuition tax credit program itself carries troubling echoes of the Peach State's pro-segregationist past :

Following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools, then-Georgia Governor Herman Talmadge had warned that "blood will run in Atlanta's streets." Declared Talmadge, "We intend to maintain separate schools in Georgia, one way or another."

That very year, 1954, Talmadge's term as governor ran out, and the Georgia constitution barred him from a second term. Former governor Talmadge went on to a long career as a member of the U.S. Senate, where he voted against the 1964 civil rights and the 1965 voting rights bills.

While Talmadge's segregationist voucher scheme was never implemented, the lineage carries on - through voucher and tuition tax credit schemes rapidly spreading across the nation, propelled by massive amounts of corporate cash and championed by strategists of the Christian right, notably Dick DeVos and Betsy DeVos, head of the pro-privatization group American Federation For Children.

According to People For The American Way Fellow Peter Montgomery,

"Religious Right leaders and anti-government ideologues have shared a decades-long dream: to dismantle public education through a system of vouchers that would divert taxpayer funds out of public schools and into religious schools and other private academies.  For some, privatizing education is primarily a religious or ideological project. For others, the billions of dollars that flow through public schools is a tempting source of cash."

As researcher Rachel Tabachnick explains, in a Public Eye article on the spread of "school choice" initiatives across America, tuition tax credit schemes were conceived by pro-school privatization forces, following the decisive voter rejection of school voucher initiatives in California and Michigan in the 2000 election, as a rebranding tactic to move past the racist stigma associated with vouchers.

In 2002, during a speech to the Heritage Foundation in which he outlined a state-by-state "stealth" strategy to advance school privatization, Amway fortune heir Dick DeVos warned "We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities".

"Welfare for the rich"

In the 2011 legislative session, StudentsFirst's 2012 "Educator of the Year" Senate Majority Leader "Chip" Rogers helped pass legislation enabling financial expansion of the Georgia tuition tax credit program, which has since come under increasing criticism, for its apparent purpose - as a tax subsidy for private schools that ultimately drains money from Georgia's public school system and seems to violate the spirit of Georgia's state constitution, by funneling tax money to sectarian religious schools.

Beyond gay rights and church-state separation concerns, programs such as Georgia's raise issues of economic fairness:

In a February 28, 2013 report, the Washington Post suggested that state tuition tax credit programs may amount to "welfare for the rich". Wrote author Valerie Strauss,

"Call it welfare for the rich. Why? Wealthy businesses and individuals are the folks who get the tax credits for putting up the cash to pay the tuition. Furthermore, the amount of money for tuition made available for tuition by private scholarship organizations often does not actually cover the full cost of attending a private school. Poor families can't make up the difference. Guess who can."

Strauss' Washington Post story followed a May 22, 2012 New York Times report from Stephanie Saul, which noted only a small percent of Georgia's tuition tax credit program money benefits poor children and observed that, nationally, tuition tax credit programs serve a number of less-than fully altruistic goals:

"Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs... redirected nearly $350 million [in 2012] that would have gone into public budgets...

While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show...

Most of the private schools are religious... Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation. An economics book used in some high schools holds that the Antichrist -- a world ruler predicted in the New Testament -- will one day control what is bought and sold."

Tea Party Republicans first ?

StudentsFirst's 2012 endorsement of Former Georgia Senator "Chip" Rogers initially hit heavy criticism last August because, while StudentsFirst officially supports the immigration reform DREAM Act, Senator Rogers was author of three draconian anti-immigrant bills and was identified in a 2004 Southern Poverty Law Center report as being part of a growing movement of "xenophobic hatred" in Georgia.

Although Michelle Rhee has touted her StudentsFirst effort as bipartisan, the slate of candidates it backed in 2012 suggests otherwise.

In the 2012 electoral cycle, 90 out of the 105 candidates nationally who were financially backed by StudentsFirst as "education reform" candidates were Republicans, many of whom were on the far right. One was "Chip" Rogers, who received $1750 from StudentsFirst and $4800 from the pro-school privatization group American Federation For Children. In the same year StudentsFirst gave $6500 to help reelect Tennessee Representative John Ragan.

Chip Rogers' tenure in the Georgia Senate did not long survive his reelection or his selection by StudentsFirst as a hero of education "reform".

In October 2012 at a private Georgia Republican caucus session, Senator Rogers organized and presided over a 4-hour presentation led by a former Georgia Tea Party member who gave an extended Powerpoint presentation in which he warned that the nonbinding United Nations Resolution known as Agenda 21, which encourages sustainable development, is in fact part of a United Nations conspiracy to impose a totalitarian one world government.

The presentation claimed the Obama Administration planned to implement the evil plot using Cold War-era mind control techniques.

Following negative publicity over the event, which was partially filmed by a Georgia public-interest group which publicly released the footage, Senator Rogers opted, in November 2012, not to run for a third two-year term as Georgia Senate Majority Leader. The following December, Rogers resigned his senate seat and subsequently was appointed, amidst considerable controversy to head the Georgia Public Broadcasting corporation.

Former Senator Rogers' October caucus session was even more extreme than media coverage suggested. The session also featured a screening of a one and a half hour conspiracy theory-packed documentary video named "Agenda: Grinding America Down", by evangelical activist Curtis Bowers.

Bowers' video depicts liberals, progressives, and the Democratic Party as part of a covert communist plot to infiltrate, subvert, and destroy American democracy, free enterprise, the family, and Judeo-Christian civilization -- a grand conspiracy alleged to include the feminist movement, the "homosexual movement", the environmental movement, the anti-war movement,, Media Matters For America, A.C.O.R.N. and, needless to say, President Barack Obama.

In the video's introduction Bowers intones,

"History has proven beyond any doubt that the free enterprise that freedom produces more for anyone willing to work than any other system. So why would the left still be pushing their socialist agenda on us ? I mean, it's really just microwave communism. There's really only two possibilities. They're either ignorant, or they're evil."

Partial transcript, Talmadge video

Governor Talmadge's commentary on his plans to thwart the upcoming Brown decision begins at 4:20 in the video, and continues for over ten minutes. At 6:52, Talmadge states,

"At the last session of the [Georgia] general assembly, they submitted a constitutional amendment to the people of our state for their approval or rejection, which will enable the general assembly, in its discretion and in its wisdom, to utilize tax funds for the payment of tuition fees to private institutions, if that becomes necessary."

One of the two moderators interviewing Talmadge then comments,

"Well that is going to be a very difficult system to set up, I suppose. Would it be very expensive, sir?

To which Talmadge replies,

"Anything the Supreme Court does to thwart or change our present system of state-control of our educational systems will be the most difficult thing that we in the Southern states have had to approach or deal with since the war between the states."

The moderator interjects,

"It will effect something like twelve million school children and the District of Columbia..."

Leaping in with more comprehensive statistics on segregation, Talmadge lays out,

"Tremendous number - actually seventeen states have mandatory segregation, four states have permissive segregation, but at one time the overwhelming majority of the states in the union had segregation. Now, the white people in the South and also the Negros in the South want it left alone, just like it is. A few agitators, white and colored, want to change it."

The moderator observes,

"Governor, this means, in effect, your state would set up a private school system."

Somewhat testily, Talmadge retorts,

"I don't think there's any doubt that my state would do so, if they had to, to maintain segregation. We intend to maintain separate schools in Georgia one way or another, come what may. A lot of people are not familiar with it, don't realize how far reaching or deep-seated that is, for both races, white and colored. Now, by the nearest comparison I can possibly think of at the moment - if the Supreme Court of the United States suddenly handed down a decision that you could no longer worship your God, in these United States, as you saw fit - you can imagine the consternation, the chaos, the turmoil, the excitement that would create. Any decision to outlaw segregation in common schools in the Southern states would amount to about the same thing in our area.


"Well, Governor, does that mean, if you're going to make, set up a private schools with state funds, that no matter how the decision goes, the Negros are going to benefit through better schools and more advanced education ?"


"Actually, the Negros are already benefiting through fine schools in Georgia."

footnote #1: this is my original story introduction, which I rewrote October 20, 2013.
"School privatization schemes, hatched during the racist Southern backlash against the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision, are now both undermining the urban public schools that many African-American students attend by siphoning taxpayer money off in neo-voucher schemes that fund white-dominated wealthy suburban schools and are also funding a new segregation regime that discriminates against LGBT students and even teaches that they are hated by God. Michelle Rhee's national pro-school privatization group StudentsFirst appears to be all for it."

To also understand the ideological underpinnings and rhetorical tactics used by white southern supremacists to oppose education integration, I would strongly recommend Clive Webb's edited book, Massive Resistance: Southern Opposition to the Second Reconstruction (2005). There is virtually no argument employed by the Christian Right, the John Birch Society, the Tea Party movement, or the school voucher movement that cannot be found in this excellent book. Kevin Kruse has a chapter in the book on the 'Freedom of Association.' What he wrote of the 1950s white supremacists sounds very much like the Tea Party's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds of the right to freely associate with only whites or to use their property free of federal interference (page 100): "Even though the conventional wisdom, then and now, held that segregationists were only fighting against the rights of others, in their own minds, these whites were instead fighting for rights of their own--such as the supposed 'right' to select their neighbors, their employees, and their children's classmates, the 'right' to do as they pleased with their private property and personal businesses, and, of course, the 'right' to remain free from what they perceived to be dangerous encroachments by the federal government." There is so much useful information in this book and other authors explore how religion was central to the anti-integration ideology.

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Privatized K-12 schools provides another opportunity for supposedly "independent""free market" capitalists to suck off the government teat - as with all large for-profit contractors such as the defense industry big companies . They are against government spending until they can get the contract, and then they rely on their paid-for congresscritters to stifle any attempt to evaluate the contracts for cost and efficacy.

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Rhee is perfectly aware of and approves of segregated schools. She is more Michelle of the Malkin bent than the Obama by far. She and her hubby, former basketball star Kevin Johnson who is now mayor of Sacramento, CA, are highly conservative people pretending to be liberals. Every word out of their mouths betrays them - homophobic, anti labor, sneering at the poor - and she courts schools that will promote free market capitalism and subordination of labor as well as religious right values. Just LISTEN to her - and her faux liberal husband who blooped when he dissed the LGBT community by first supporting Prop. 8 then rushing to pretend he did not - as they promote school segregation and privatization. He was founder of the total failure of a charter school - SAINT HOPE. This is the Dominionist march of the theocrats with tax dollars. Be clear - Michelle is not doing this unwittingly. She is perfectly fine with it all.

by Churchlady on Sun Oct 20, 2013 at 08:51:23 PM EST
...about Rhee's motives - what in the end really matters, to my mind, are the fruits of her privatization efforts. If Michelle Rhee does not support the rising regime of neo-segregation that the StudentsFirst-backed neo-voucher programs support, it is incumbent upon her to withdraw that support and denounce the dismal results. Otherwise, yes, one could fairly accuse Rhee of backing segregationism.

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In the year 1953, a year in progress of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court verdict that would rule ethnically separated public schools unconstitutional; Georgia Governor Herman Talmage placed the basis for a voucher scheme that would denationalize Georgia's public schools. Talmadge and his associated pro-segregation national governors didn't apply that plan, but now after fifty years an astonishingly comparable neo-voucher scheme, sponsored by Michelle Rhee's pro-privatization group StudentsFirst, is tapping taxpayer money off to account white-dominated rich residential schools and pay for pupils to join Christian fundamentalist private schools that restrict openly-LGBT pupils and learn that they are loathed by God. Refereeing by StudentsFirst's choice for first two years educators of the year the Tea Party-associated national representatives who have supported virulently anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant legislation, the Rhee-sponsored neo-voucher schemes which is this list from omni and now that deals in twelve U.S. states, which have been suspected of encouraging a new, anti-gay school separation rule, are pulling the bigoted legacy of Southern segregation in drag.

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In the year 1953, a year in advance of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court choice that would rule ethnically separated public schools illegal. Just have a look at Georgia Governor Herman Talmage placed the basis for a coupon arrangement that would transfer Georgia's public schools.

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