The student news site of Highlands High School

The Hilltopper

The student news site of Highlands High School

The Hilltopper

The student news site of Highlands High School

The Hilltopper

Politics Undermining Education

Kentucky Department of Education Logo (Source: Kentucky Department of Education)

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.” An education system free of bias and agendas is essential to maintaining a stable and fair democracy.

In recent years, the content taught in schools, and the funds supporting them have become increasingly politically divisive, inviting politicians to meddle within the school systems. Wherever politicians go, agendas and biases follow.

“The school should be one place where we don’t have a significant amount of partisan,” said Fort Thomas Independent Schools Superintendent Brian Robinson.

According to a study by Education Week, 40% of educators describe themselves as Democrats. In comparison, only 27% describe themselves as Republicans, and a majority of educators aren’t in favor of Republican-supported issues such as school choice.

In another study by the Pew Research Center, six in ten Democrats view the Department of Education positively. Six in ten Republicans view it negatively; only 52% of Republican principals have confidence in the school system. In comparison, 76% of Democratic principals are confident in the schools (both percentages have decreased by around 7% on average in the past year).

Clearly, a partisan divide has developed around American schools, with both sides scrambling to maintain control over the development of the next generation of Americans.

In Kentucky, Republicans are attempting to increase parent involvement in schools, a strategy opposed by Democrats who worry how community involvement in an overwhelmingly conservative state would influence school curriculum. 

“It is a fundamental right of parents to oversee the care and upbringing of their children,” said Kentucky state Senator Lindsey Tichenor in an interview with the Hilltopper. “Having involvement and knowledge of what is happening inside the school their children attend is important for them to ensure their children are doing well.”

Tichenor has sponsored many bills that would increase parent/community involvement in school decision-making. However, she has also focused on the administrative side of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), which she has described as ”a very top-heavy approach to education which has consistently pulled dollars away from our classroom instruction.”

“There are a variety of regulatory approaches that the Department of Education takes that I think are excessive and unnecessary and frankly can be burdensome,” said Robinson.

However, trimming the fat from the ranks may be difficult; Tichenor emphasized the need to “take a deep dive during our interim session to look at where dollars are being spent across our education system.”

While that may take time, in this session, both sides are focused on curriculum.  

In response to state Democrats pushing to add more controversial material, such as gender studies and in-depth sexual education, which Republicans would classify as progressive, to school curricula, Republicans have proposed SB 6.

SB 6 would allow parents and students to take legal action against schools or educators that push political or religious ideology or discriminate against a student for their views on a “decisive concept.” 

The criteria for a “decisive concept” include lines such as, “An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex” and “The Commonwealth of Kentucky or the United States of America is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.” Many democrats point out that this bill could be targeting the teaching of racial history and gender studies.

With so much infighting in the education system, curriculum, regulations, budget priorities, and educators themselves can change very quickly. Forcing educators to look over their shoulders at all times creates a terrible environment for educating children.

It is a very real possibility that one year a school could teach a curriculum with a Republican bias and the next a curriculum with a Democratic bias. 

“Preparing students for all types of civic engagement by teaching complete history is crucial,” writes Akilah Alleyne, a writer at The Center for American Progress. According to Alleyne, starting in 2016, Republican legislators have implemented politically motivated budget cuts to the Department of Education under the watch of former President Trump.

Content such as Alleyne’s article (and many others) only holds Republicans accountable for the polarization in schools, which only leads to Republicans pushing back harder. Both sides of the aisle are perpetuating the polarization; if schools are to become fully bipartisan, those on both sides need to be held accountable.

Robinson said, “Any bill that pits a side against another side in public education needs to be looked at with a really close eye.”

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