Opinion: No furries in schools, but snakes in the Georgia Legislature

House legislators vote in favor of Senate Bill 233 at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The bill would give $6,500 a year in state funds to the parents of each child who opts for private schooling. (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

House legislators vote in favor of Senate Bill 233 at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The bill would give $6,500 a year in state funds to the parents of each child who opts for private schooling. (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Most of the culture war legislation proposed in the Georgia General Assembly sought to remedy manufactured crises such as transgender girls reigning over high school tracks and basketball courts and third graders finding “The Happy Hooker” alongside “The Hungry Caterpillar” in school libraries.

Fortunately, the worst of the polarizing legislation failed. While advanced by a hepped-up Georgia Senate, the bills were restrained by the Georgia House, which has become the Legislature’s vigilant bartender refusing to overserve those sputtering gibberish.

This question is why so many clearheaded Georgians, most of whom send their own kids to their local schools, and rate those schools highly, come to believe the exaggerations and falsehoods about public education that politicians spout?

I was reading a North Georgia community Facebook page last week where a parent asked: Was it true that the local public middle school kept litter boxes in the bathrooms to accommodate “furries,” students who identify as kittens or other animals? The mother explained that she was worried because her child would enter middle school next year.

Most responses were incredulous — how could anyone believe that schools stocked litter boxes — but a few commenters said they’d heard the same reports about their own schools. Tales of school litter boxes for furries began as a farce a few years back, but a few people believed it or at least pretended to do so. The problem was that some of them had access to microphones and to media outlets unbothered by veracity.

Soon enough, the scream queens of Congress, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, were railing about litter boxes in schools. Then, state-level politicians joined the crazy chorus. Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen — who is a physician — linked litter boxes to gender in a 2022 campaign event, saying, “What are we doing to our kids? Why are we telling elementary kids that they get to choose their gender this week? Why do we have litter boxes in some of the school districts so kids can pee in them, because they identify as a furry?”

A Tennessee state senator said litter boxes for children who identify as cats or “whatever” represented a statewide crisis in her local schools and disrupted the learning process. She persisted even after the schools, district and state dismissed the allegations as absurd.

Such campaigns spreading disinformation and preposterous allegations are how state legislatures push through half-baked laws that presume schools and teachers as untrustworthy and even un-American.

These classrooms-gone-wild narratives in Georgia and other states seek to raise doubts about public schools and erode their standing within their communities. And the ultimate goal isn’t fewer books in school libraries. It’s more money in the pocket of private interests.

It took more than two decades of discrediting public education in both small and large ways for lawmakers to win support for general education vouchers in Georgia in which tax dollars will be used to subsidize private school tuition. This year’s passage of Senate Bill 233, which Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign, will enable the transfer of an estimated $140 million a year of taxpayer dollars to private hands.

And that amount will likely soar over the years as Georgia lawmakers seek to enlarge the scope of the voucher program in both funding and eligibility. The culture war bills and voucher bills share a similar goal — displace public schools as a national source of commonality and further fragment communities.

Georgia lawmakers described the $6,500 tax-funded voucher as the parents’ money to spend as they wish on private school tuition, books, tutors or other expenses deemed educational. (Under Florida’s voucher program, education materials extend to Disney passes, treadmills and TVs.)

It’s never been the parents’ money. That voucher represents the collective pooling of all the community’s tax dollars, including those of residents without children.

The Legislature seems to forget the vast majority of K-12 students in Georgia — 92% — attend a public school. And, no, those 1.8 million students don’t have to dodge furries in their school restrooms.

But they ought to watch out for snakes in the General Assembly.