Would Education Be Better Off Being Like Health Care?

This post has been awhile coming. This blog has been accused of neglecting the issue of privatization of public education. My take has been that Beth Bakeman created this blog out of school closures and from then we have been focused on many issues locally. Also, this state has turned back charter schools three times and I don't know that many people have it on their radar.

So what brought me here was an column by Paul Krugman in the NY Times. (Unfortunately there was no permalink for it so read it while you can.)

There is a conservative think-tank called the Heritage Foundation. It, naturally, believes that private industry can provide better services than government institutions can. Mr. Krugman asks the question,

"Suppose, for a moment, that the Heritage Foundation were to put out a press release attacking the liberal view that even children whose parents could afford to send them to private school should be entitled to free government-run education.

They’d have a point: many American families with middle-class incomes do send their kids to school at public expense, so taxpayers without school-age children subsidize families that do. And the effect is to displace the private sector: if public schools weren’t available, many families would pay for private schools instead.

So let’s end this un-American system and make education what it should be — a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise."

And, we'd all say, what?

But, that is what the Heritage Foundation is saying, in a press release, about expanding health coverage for children.

Mr. Krugman continues,

"The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It’s just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children’s medical bills “welfare,“ with all the negative connotations that go with that term."

So where does this lead the discussion? Well, you don't have to be a particularly deep thinker to see that if health care is privatized, what is the next big government program that can be privatized? Where are there huge sums of money to be made? Education.

How do we get there? Well, if we set up a national mandate to test students then we will have a huge system of creating tests, administering tests and scoring tests. Then, we'll have to have tutoring for those behind and, if those schools don't meet AYP, new governance. Meaning, charters or privatization. Is there money to be made in all these activities? Yes.

Okay, do I believe this is all true? Yes. Do I believe that conservatives don't care about education? No, I think they do but the leaders clearly have an agenda that may not register with the public.

We are in Washington state where we don't - for the most part - argue about teaching sex education or evolution and we don't have charter schools. But it doesn't mean that it isn't happening elsewhere and it's important to realize that it is happening. We have to decide in this country what public education means before the decision is made for us.


Maggie Metcalfe said…
Some people have noticed that the Washington state legislature began to neglect funding for public education at about the same time in history that the first charter legislation came about. There have been three attempts to pass it, the voters have rejected them all. The last one was passed by the legislature and then overturned by the electorate. Legislators such as Helen Summers have demanded to school board members that they close schools or get no greater funding from the state. School closures have progressed although no-one has shown proof that the process saves money. In fact, the recent closures in Seattle were supposedly because of budget shortfalls but when the levy elections were coming up, the district suddenly came up with surpluses which, unfortunately did not get applied to preventing closures.

Closures are a way of shrinking the district and opening the market for more private programs.

Business interests, the Business Round Table for example, pressure the governor and legislature for privatization in the form of charters, then when that failed the next legislation was for "opportunity schools" but still specially contracted-or chartered.

Now the recent Governor's commissioned Washington Learns report calls for "public/private partnerships"- maybe another name for charters? They would still be contracted entities with special privileges (even the contracted right to survival as the New School has is a privilege the regular public schools don't have).

Terry Bergeson (OSPI)said last year that she "got a lot of grief from people for supporting charter school legislation, but that we don't need that anymore, we can just make agreements." I believe she is referring to "public/private partnerships".

So, I think you need to look deeper than the issue of charters, the deal makers keep changing the name, and as people have noticed with the building of stadiums, government doesn't seem to take no for an answer especially when the business interests, who fund campaigns, want something.

Privatization is not something that is happening in other places, its just necessarily more subtle here because voters don't want it. If we want public schools, we need to be aware that it is happening here.

Look at the archives of the Seattle Times-notice how many positive articles over say the last 5 years there have been about charter legislation, and private or "private/public" education programs , then notice how many negative and even slanderous articles there have been on public schools. Look at the records of the legislators who support closures and notice how many of those also supported charter legislation.

We do need community support for our schools, and there are positive ways of getting and using it, but we don't need to turn over our schools as we almost did with Rainier Beach High School last year to the private TAF program. We can combine efforts without handing over buildings or dispersing communities.

I'm glad you have raised this issue Melissa. I'm also glad you raised the issue of standardized testing, downgrading and closing schools. There are many who believe that the NCLB was intended to destroy public education and make way for privatization.

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