Texas Governor Greg Abbott is often the tip of the spear for the great conservative project in America, which makes him a good bellwether for which parts of the American system the GOP will attack next. Abbott now has his sights set on public education.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that Abbott on Wednesday said Texas “will resurrect” a 1982 Supreme Court case requiring states to provide free public education to all children, including the children of undocumented immigrants.
“Texas already long ago sued the federal government about having to incur the costs of the education program, in a case called Plyler vs. Doe,” Abbott said on a conservative talk radio show. “And the Supreme Court ruled against us on the issue. … I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler versus Doe was issued many decades ago.”
Public education has been increasingly demonized by the right, particularly surrounding sex, gender, and racial issues. Conservative candidates running in contested primaries have been hammering the issues of critical race theory and gender education in state-run schools to rounds of applause, while singing the values of private education. State legislatures are passing bills that hamstring school discretion over how to educate children, arguing that parents should be the ones controlling curriculums. The backlash has grown to the point that some on the right are questioning whether public schools should exist at all.
It seems ludicrous, but it’s clear that after the Supreme Court’s draft decision on Roe v. Wade leaked earlier this week, conservatives are plotting out which other cases they can turn out to advance their broader goals. Justice Alito’s draft decision on Roe specifically referenced both Lawrence v. Texas, which legalized sodomy, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, saying that “none of these rights has any claim to being deeply rooted in history.” Abbott, meanwhile, is licking his chops over Plyler vs. Doe. Conservatives control the Supreme Court by a 6-3 margin. The GOP sees the draft decision on Roe as a green light to abuse their advantage as much as possible.
Abbott framed the potential of overturning Plyler v. Doe as a way to lessen the costs of educating undocumented immigrants, giving the plan a convenient spin that dovetails with a common conservative talking point. But overturning Plyer v. Doe may result not just in relief for overburdened school systems; it could create a gateway for their abolition, further crippling education in America and shuffling more children into a privatized system with few common standards. It would be a disastrous turn not just for children of undocumented immigrants, but for children all across America.
Abbott is one of the nation’s most extreme right-wing governors, and though he may be the first to suggest axing Plyler vs. Doe, other Republican governors, statehouses, and national administrations are liable to follow his lead. They already did so with the state’s abortion ban.