Yesterday, the Network for Public Education and the Schott Foundation for Public Education, released a report titled “Grading the States” that serves as a report card on our nation’s commitment to public schools. At the onset, they challenge the belief in privatization as the solution and write,
Although the public school system is not perfect and has continual room for improvement, it is still the cornerstone of community empowerment and advancement in American society.
Therein, I believe, lies the rub. Those driving America’s economic engine, don’t want everyone aboard the train. Instead, those who most “have”, are working very hard to leave the “have nots” at the station. As Stephen Brill writes in his new book “Tailspin”,
Conservatives have always preached self-reliance while liberals favored an activist government that assures the common good. However, [what we are seeing now] is a new, wider, and more dangerous divide - between those at the top, who enjoy unprecendented power, and everyone else. For those at the top, the common good is no longer good for them.
Even though many Americans have become polarized into either the Conservative or Liberal camps, the real fight isn't there. Increasingly, it is between the MEGA "haves" and the "have-nots". Truth is, for these MEGA "haves", political ideology and allegiance to our nation, are likely much less important than maintaining and improving their status. After all, in our global economy, our country's borders are no barrier to their multi-national interests and in their gilded worlds, not only do they increasingly not care about the common good, they don’t even need it. And nothing, is more all about the “common good” than public education. It provides opportunity to all and is largely responsible for building the strongest middle class in the world, once making the American Dream a possibility for many.
Now, that Dream is largely out-of-reach by the vast majority of Americans and the assault on public education is a real threat to our nation. As “Grading the States” points out,
Privatization in public schools weakens our democracy and often sacrifices the rights and opportunities of the majority for the presumed advantage of a small percentage of students.
Those paying attention, are aware of the threat. What "Grading the States" does, is drive home the havoc being wreaked by grading each state according to “instituted policies and practices that lead toward fewer democratic opportunities and more privatization”, as well as “the guardrails put into place [or not] to protect the rights of students, communities and taxpayers”.
It should surprise no Arizona public school advocate that our state received an “F” rating. It also should not surprise that Arizona was ranked 51st overall, 50th in voucher policy and 49th in charter policy.
Delving into further details, the report notes that,
Of the 18 states with Tuition Tax-Credit Programs, 9 fail to require any accreditation of the schools that receive a benefit from such Tuition Tax-Credit Programs. Arizona has the worst accountability over their Tuition Tax-Credit Programs. Except for requiring background checks for teachers and employees, Arizona’s Tuition Tax-Credit Programs fail all the reviewed accountability categories.
It also points out that although privatization advocates claim “vouchers and charter programs are more accountable than public schools”, research just doesn’t bear this out.
For example, the ESA program of Arizona, the largest in the country, expects no evidence or monitoring of student achievement, while placing 90% of the public school funding on a debit card for parents to find non-public education services.
Only public district schools after all, have locally elected governing board members, who are accountable to the voters and taxpayers, and must adhere to open meeting laws.
Perhaps craziest of all, is that we are all being sold a bill of goods that aren't, by and large, delivering better results and that most of us really don't want. According to the report, a poll conducted in October 2017 found that,
among all registered voters, only 40 percent supported vouchers while 55 percent are opposed. This number further decreases to 23 percent with opposition at 70 percent when voters were asked to consider support if it meant less money for public schools.
In Arizona, a December 2016 poll supported these findings, showing that 77 percent indicated the state should spend more money on our schools and 61 percent indicated they would support a tax increase to provide additional funding for education.
To understand why then, the push to privatize is being pursued with such vigor, one need only follow the profit and power. The U.S. K-12 education market is estimated to be worth some $700 billion. The oversight of public education is the most fundamental exercise of our right to self-govern and in many communities, our districts are the hubs of those communities. If the privatizers succeed in killing our right to, and interest in, engaging on behalf of our children, what engagement will we still care about?