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Est. April 5, 2002
July 13, 2017 - Issue 707

Public Education Stakeholders
Overwhelmed by Privatization

"Public education stakeholders must
be more mindful of the Cartel’s
multifaceted assault on public schools
that is intensifying daily."

The primary stakeholders in public education - teachers, unions, parents, and ordinary citizens - are being systematically overwhelmed by the forces of privatization. The Cartel of corporate education reformers, operating on multiple fronts, has been consistently expanding its footprint in the nation’s public schools. They are not only promoting school choice, charter and voucher schools, but they are turning these initiatives into business opportunities, a form of education entrepreneurship. In addition, their marketing strategies are combined with their purchase of Democratic and Republican legislators in local, state and federal government. Often, unions and other public education backers are unaware of related efforts that also undermine their sustainability.

First, the key elements of school choice, voucher schools and education savings accounts, have been aggressively promoted since the passage of the Wisconsin voucher program in March 1990. In subsequent years, voucher programs were established in Ohio and Florida and affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case in 2002. Charter schools, which are technically public schools, were first established in Minnesota in 1991 followed by California in 1992. They were originally championed by Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). By 1994, Shanker was one of the first education union leaders to realize that the Cartel’s mission was to turn charter schools into corporate entities, and he withdrew his support for the effort. In a conversation with the author at AFT headquarters in Washington, D.C. in November 1994, Shanker correctly predicted the corporatization of charter schools and that the Cartel would use them, along with contracts for school services and products, to turn public education into a corporate profit center.

Fast forward nearly a quarter century, and we see that Shanker was prescient with his view. Charter schools today are increasingly operating with the independence of private, sectarian, and voucher schools while receiving a larger financial allocation from the government than their voucher counterparts. This is one of the reasons that Eli Broad, who essentially serves as the Cartel’s minister of education, wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee opposing the confirmation of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, because of her fervent support of school vouchers. Knowing that charters are much more widespread and popular than vouchers, he saw this as an opportunity to take a so-called principled stance for public education and to bond with teacher unions who also opposed DeVos and vouchers. Since her approval, Broad and the Cartel have healed the breach with DeVos since she controls a massive federal increase in funding for charter schools, and ultimately it is about the money.

Second, the marketing of school choice to working-class and low-income parents by corporate education reformers has been excellent. Spending tens of millions of dollars in print, radio, and television ads, they have also showered these groups with laptops, iPads, picnics, school supplies, etc. and the claim that their children will be delivered to the education promise land if they participate in school choice. The Cartel has been assisted by school board members and state legislators who have reduced funding to individual schools and school districts, respectively, where the children of these parents are enrolled. These elected officials have been heavily funded by the corporate sector, often with 50 percent of their total campaign contributions coming from corporate leaders. For example, two Cartel-backed candidates, who upset incumbents, allowed Eli Broad and his cronies to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board in the May 2017 election. Broad had already announced that he will convert 50 percent of LAUSD schools to charters by 2023, and now he will have the school board and his own team marketing charters and school choice.

Third, the Cartel is funding a bevy of cases across the country to destabilize unions and to advance public school privatization. In 2016, the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which challenged union agency fees, was defeated in a four to four SCOTUS decision, only because of Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death. He would have voted to overturn the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education where SCOTUS upheld the maintaining of a union shop in a public workplace. Undaunted, the corporate reformers refocused their energies on the AFSCME v. Janus case which will accomplish the same objective and is scheduled to be heard during SCOTUS’s fall term and will eliminate agency fees with the vote of Scalia’s replacement, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Thus the Cartel is surrounding public education stakeholders with a curtain of privatization.

Fourth, Eli Broad has distributed his Broad Superintendents Academy (BSA)-trained graduates throughout the nation’s urban school districts. These individuals, diverse in gender and race, have been taught to run school districts like a business and to direct their districts’ service and product contracts to specific corporate vendors. During the fifteen years of its existence, the BSA has placed more than 200 of its alumni as district and/or state superintendents of education. But its greatest achievement has been to place successive superintendents in large urban districts: Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia and Chester, Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; Camden, Trenton, and Newark New Jersey; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Memphis, Tennessee, to name a few, moving growing percentages of these districts’ finances into corporate hands. Thus, Broad is maximizing his privatization plan for public education.

Public education stakeholders must be more mindful of the Cartel’s multifaceted assault on public schools that is intensifying daily. They need to be sensitive to the fact that the attacks are becoming refined (e.g., Florida’s new law that mandates that school districts share property taxes with charter schools and other creative privatization approaches) and must be closely monitored. The establishment of a collective war room made up of teachers, parents, grassroots activists, rank-and-file citizens, and unions could prove beneficial.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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David A. Love, JD
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