Last week Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reprinted a commencement address Richard Rothstein, former NYTimes education reporter, gave to the graduating class of Loyola University Chicago College of Education. The address lays out the facts regarding the supposedly failing schools in our country (the NAEP data shows they are NOT failing at all) and the need for our country to address the underlying problems that challenge public schools (as James Carville famously quoted: “It’s the economy stupid!”). It’s a good read.
A post earlier this week by Common Dreams blogger Richard Eskow described the impact billionaires are having on public policy in general and how the media, exemplified by 60 minutes in the post, are championing this trend. Using Paul Tudor Jones, a billionaire whose “Robin Hood Foundation” was profiled on the show, as an example, Eskow explains how our current system of low tax rates and tax loopholes works to the advantage of philanthropists:
…What if there had been no hedge fund loophole for people like Paul Tudor Jones and he had paid Obama’s top tax rate of 39.5 percent? Our hypothetical Jones would have paid an additional $1 billion in taxes. That’s nearly as much as all the donors to the “Robin Hood Foundation,” including Jones, have given in its entire history.
If the top rate were raised to 70 percent, as it was when Ronald Reagan took over, our presumptive Jones would have paid roughly $2.3 billion in additional taxes, nearly doubling the “Robin Hood” figure.
And if it were raised to the 92 percent level, as it was under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, our Mr. Jones would have paid an additional $3.2 billion in taxes.
So, this philanthropist avoided paying $1,000,000,000 due to one tax loophole. But wait, there’s yet another loophole:
If the “Robin Hood Foundation” has collected $1.2 billion in tax-deductible contributions, that means the U.S. government has given up nearly $200 million in tax income (perhaps much more) as a result. The rest of us are picking up the slack – either with our taxes, or in the loss of needed services. We’re subsidizing the generosity of billionaires.
But the big advantage of pouring money into a foundation instead of “giving it” to the government is that the philanthropist gets to decide how the funds are spent. As Eskow cynically writes:
It’s much more gratifying to give whatever you feel like giving, whenever you feel like it. And it must be way more fun to dictate terms to women running soup kitchens (as portrayed in “60 Minutes”), give pseudo-evangelical speeches to adoring crowds, and be lionized on television under the adoring gaze of Scott Pelley.
Diane Ravitch has written several blog posts on the impact of the billionaire boys club on school policy. Several like minded philanthropists have created an interlocking directorate of foundations and think tanks who co-opted the term “school reform”, provided the ideas that evolved into the NCLB legislation that defined the majority of schools as “failing”, influenced the Obama administration’s competitive RTTT grants, and are now leading the charge to privatize public education. As noted in previous posts, it is hard to gauge the intentions of these funders. Are they well-intentioned idealists who, after taking full advantage of the tax breaks in place, want to direct their money toward education projects that reflect their beliefs? Or, as many bloggers believe, are they greedy profiteers trying to foist privatization on disadvantaged communities as a way to further increase their wealth?
If the billionaires are trying to impose new ideas on public education, they are falling short of the mark. To date, the foundations and think tanks receiving most of their funding from the billionaires have advocated “solutions” to schooling that engineer the existing factory model instead of re-forming the enterprise altogether.
If the billionaires goal is to privatize the public schools, they are making progress. They have convinced the public that public schools are “failing”, that teachers are overpaid and underworked, and that school districts have bloated bureaucracies that stifle creativity. More importantly, they have defined the agenda for public education at the federal level which, through RTTT, has changed the agenda at the state level.
Public education is one of the last public enterprises to be privatized… and it may also be the most difficult to privatize because it is deeply rooted in local democracy. Like the Post Office, the local school is an institution that defines a community and, as Congress has learned, closing post offices for even a day in even the smallest community is a political challenge. When small communities realize that the end game of the billionaires is privatization, the push back will be daunting. The number of elected school board members in most states exceeds the number of elected legislators and when local control is challenged there will be pushback, as evidenced by the recent resistance to the Common Core State Standards. Because public education is grassroots democracy at its best (and sometimes worst), it could be the ultimate factor in undercutting the messaging of the billionaires. As an advocate for democracy and public education, I hope so.
An NPR blog post on May 4 featured a story about the Rocori (MN) school district’s decision to buy “bulletproof whiteboards” to shield students from armed school invaders. The blog post featured two pictures: a “before and after” picture of a whiteboard ravaged with bullets held by a law enforcement official and one that was virginal held by the superintendent of schools; and picture of blonde model posing defensively with the white board to illustrate how it might be put to use in an attack.
The article also noted that, as this blogger predicted, the last pieces of legislation standing after the Newtown killings include one to help schools develop emergency plans and another to acquire safety gadgetry:
A post-Newtown measure that will be considered by the U.S. Senate would authorize $40 million in grants that must be matched by local school systems for improving security with measures including lights, locks and surveillance equipment, as well as for security training for teachers and administrators.
Oh…. and the USDOE and Homeland security are going to be providing schools with help too, after a couple of years of budget cuts:
The U.S. Education Department is also developing an emergency guide for schools, and the Department of Homeland Security is writing a similar one on securing school buildings. The Education Department’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant program has been a victim of budget cuts, unfunded since 2011.
A school psychologist from an OR school where a shooting took place in 1998 and is now chairwoman of the National Association of School Psychologists’ emergency assistance team “…views bulletproof whiteboards and the like as “a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that doesn’t exist”, noting that ”…there’s a 1 in 2.5 million chance it will happen”. The blog post goes on to say:
Her tack is to encourage school districts to balance the physical safety of their campuses with what she called the “psychological safety of the campus.” A bigger risk to safety in schools is kids being bullied and harassed, she says.
After the shooting at her school, there was a push by some for metal detectors, which the school ended up not installing. But the district did receive a federal grant through a program called the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, which was used for crisis planning, looking at physical safety and the school environment.
The school system installed perimeter fencing, she says, redesigned some school entrances, and closed up others. The high school already had security cameras, which documented the shooter, gun hidden, as he approached the school.
That money, however, has dried up, Paine says, as has much of the other federal money once available for school safety measures, including school resource officers.
Not only has security money dried up… but money for all education has diminished resulting in the loss of teachers, social services, and public health. The school resource officers are likely to be restored first….