Home > Uncategorized > Starve The Beast, Feed the Angels: The Government Must Be Bled Dry to Help the Privatizers

Starve The Beast, Feed the Angels: The Government Must Be Bled Dry to Help the Privatizers

May 2, 2016

Diane Ravitch cross posted an essay written by Nancy Wackstein for the Daily Slant titled “Let’s Support ‘Locally Grown’ Social Services”. The premise of the article is that recent RFPs for the provision of services are effectively requiring the consolidation of social services by eliminating the ability of smaller to apply for grants.  Ms. Wackstein described the “evolution” of the “business” of social services this way:

Nonprofit agencies were exhorted to model themselves on corporations: the only path to sustainability was through growth, and more growth. And a prevailing ideology emerged: scale automatically equals efficiency.

Agencies were urged to consolidate and merge so more people could be served and larger catchment areas covered, sometimes even borough-wide and citywide. Underpinning the growth and consolidation trend was often the belief that there just were just too many nonprofit providers resulting in redundant programming and overlapping areas of service – inefficiencies.

Trends in city government funding embraced and supported this ideology. Contracts for services began to privilege larger and larger social service providers in the name of efficiency.

Requests for proposals were designed to identify agencies that could serve larger geographic areas containing larger numbers of people. Why contract with 90 different smaller nonprofits when you could contract with five larger ones?

Ms. Wackstein’s argument in support of decentralization misses a major point: the reason these NGOs exist is because the pre-existing centralized public welfare system has been woefully underfunded! From my perspective the problem isn’t centralization per se. It makes sense to have school districts— and public welfare systems— centralized so that business and administrative functions can be provided in a streamlined fashion. But in this day and age, it also makes sense for schools, welfare agencies, and public health agencies to break down barriers and coordinate the delivery of services to families raising children in poverty. Over a decade ago I wrote an article that was published in Education Week called “A Homeland Security Security Bill for Education” that described how the coordination of centralized government funded agencies might provide more support for special needs and poverty-stricken students than the current model of functional silos sealed by confidentiality. We don’t need more NGOs or consolidated NGOs any more than we need more charter schools or charter chains. We need more robust funding for public agencies that provide health and human services and more coordination among the agencies that do so.

Over the past thirty five years we have decided it is better to starve the government beast and feed the private sector angels… and the result has been devastating to all publicly funded agencies that serve children raised in poverty.

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