Julie Bosman reports in the New York Times that conservatives in Kansas have taken to calling public schools “government schools,” and that other people are upset about this use of a “calculated pejorative.”
The phrase is more neutrally descriptive than it is pejorative, and more accurate than “public schools.” What distinguishes these schools from other schools is not their greater accountability to the public, their greater service to the public, or even their greater openness to the public. (I happen to have attended schools run by subdivisions of the state of Kansas from first to twelfth grade. They were good schools, and they were open to any member of the public so long as his family moved to a relatively affluent neighborhood.) What distinguishes them is that they’re run by the government. It’s because it’s a neutral term that, as Bosman notes, the phrase is often used overseas to describe what we typically call “public schools” here.