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Paul Buchheit Shows How Privatization Divides Us… and Keeps Us Divided

September 26, 2017

Paul Buchheit, a college teacher, and founder and developer of social justice and educational websites, posts frequently about inequality in Common Dreams and his most recent post, “How Privatization Cuts Us in Two While Public Institutions Make Us Better People” leads with these paragraphs:

Most people looking to make big money are eager to disparage public systems as inefficient, wasteful, inferior. Many of those people are in a position to starve the public systems of funding, thereby making them less functional, and making the private options look more appealing.

But privatization is not the solution, it is the problem. Properly supported public systems serve more people in a more efficient and less costly way. We might begin by looking at FEMA, the underfunded disaster relief program much maligned for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But today it’s a lifesaver for many people. And the alternative is an onslaught of businesses that seek profit among the hurricane victims desperate for water and food and supplies.

Mr. Buchheit then describes the impact of privatization on four elements of the economy: health care; housing; the environment: and, public education. Here’s his analysis of how privatization is a force for divisiveness in public schools:

Betsy DeVos’ state of Michigan is a painful example of the perils of privatization. Michigan’s K-12 system is largely unregulated, with charter schools competing for the same pot of money like so many profit-seeking corporations. The results have been miserable, according to recent nationwide assessments. Student proficiency has faltered, inequality between rich and poor districts has grown, and in places like Holland, MI (Betsy’s hometown) white families have ‘chosen’ their way out of traditional public schools, leaving behind the children of low-income Hispanic migrant workers. Says Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron about the charter experiment: “These are the most vulnerable students we have. Why do we experiment on them?”

But all is well for the banks and hedge funds, and for the Education Maintenance Organizations (EMOs) that buy up properties, lease them to schools for a little while, then sell them to the same schools for millions of dollars in profits.

Public schools, on the other hand, can work very well when the emphasis is on the student-teacher relationship rather than on business models.Jeff Bryant describes some of the attributes of the successful Long Beach, California school system: “respect for teachers…internal accountability…intense devotion to the well-being of students.” This is similar to the much-praised educational system in Finland, where teachers are well-trained, well-paid, highly respected, and trusted to actually teach the kids rather than test them.

Parents want well-supported local schools much more than they want the choice of private options. A 2017 poll conducted for the American Federation of Teachers by Hart Research Associates found that 71% of parents chose “a good quality neighborhood public school” over “more choices of which schools I can send my children to.”

While one might dispute the findings of a survey underwritten by the American Federation of Teachers, the recent findings of the Phi Delta Kappa survey mirror these findings, with 62% of public school parents giving their child’s school an A or B grade and a majority of members of the public opposing the use of public funds for private schools.

But the formula for creating “failing public schools” seems intractable even as it moves from the Federal level to the state level. State governments underfund public schools, affluent communities augment the limited state funding with local property taxes that are relatively easy to raise given their tax base and wealth, and underfunded schools serving children raised in poverty “fail” and are then turned over to profiteers. The rich are getting a better education than the poor, and the stratification that led to these disparate opportunities is reinforced and perpetuated. Privatization DOES cut us in two, and unless those who benefit from the current state of affairs, namely the affluent parents, speak out in favor of economic justice the division will widen and will be increasingly difficult to close.

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