In the days since House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) announced that he will not seek reelection this year, much of the commentary has focused on his failures. Barring a sudden bout of legislative productivity, Ryan will relinquish the speaker’s gavel with a deficit-exploding tax cut for corporations and the rich as his only significant achievement. Fortunately, his career-defining goals of privatizing Social Security, converting Medicare into a voucher system and dismantling the safety net remain unfulfilled. And then, of course, there is his humiliating failure, dating back to the 2016 campaign, to stand up to President Trump.
Ryan’s legacy, however, is far bigger than any single policy or political battle. He has spent his career advocating an ideology that divides Americans into “makers” and “takers” and pushes the economic interests of the former at the expense of the latter. By putting a friendly face on punishing, plutocratic policies, Ryan hoodwinked a credulous media establishment into believing that he was an earnest wonk instead of the cruel reactionary he really is. And although his ideas have mostly stalled at the federal level, they have thrived in Republican-controlled states around the country — to devastating effect.
Recently, the consequences of Ryan-style conservatism have provoked a growing backlash, demonstrated in the teacher demonstrations in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona. In Oklahoma, where teachers this month staged a nine-day walkout, tax cuts for the wealthy in 2004 were followed by deep cuts to spending on public services. These cuts deprived public schools of about $350 million per year, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, contributing to low teacher pay, large class sizes, deteriorating textbooks and four-day school weeks in much of the state. Before teachers began planning the walkout, which ended Thursday, state lawmakers had not merely neglected these pressing issues for years; they’ve exacerbated them by passing additional tax cuts for the rich and renewing a massive tax break for oil and gas companies.
Many states are facing similar funding challenges. Twenty-nine states now spend less per student on K-12 education than a decade ago, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A number of these states have also cut income taxes, including Oklahoma and Arizona. Notably, the nine states that have experienced the largest percentage decline in spending per student