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When Billionaires Get Into The Education Game, It’s The Students Who Lose

In a report released on December 2, Zephyr Teachout, who ran a primary campaign earlier this year against Andrew Cuomo in the race for Governor of New York, documented a lobbying effort by hedge fund managers in this year’s elections with the goal of an eventual takeover of New York’s public schools.

In describing the $10 million campaign funding blitz she said,

“Their campaign bears the signature components of the corporate takeover world which they occupy: rapid action on multiple fronts; highly secretive activity shielded from the public view; high stakes, big spending, and top-down power plays that are not accountable to the public.” 

This is only the latest of moves by proponents of privatization to dismantle the public education system built up over the last 150 years. This is a nationwide movement funded by billionaires like Carl Icahn (named in the Teachout report) and David and Charles Koch, to name but a few. What sets New York apart is that, a Democrat, Governor Andrew Cuomo is leading the charge.

Cuomo summed up the rationale in October, saying,

“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly.”

Monopolies, of course, are a bad thing. Too much power in one place is dangerous and must be broken up. Ordinarily I would agree, except for one distinction. It is OUR monopoly. It belongs to “we the people.” Since when is too much power held by “we the people” a bad thing? Especially when breaking that monopoly would then hand that power over to billionaires and corporations who already have too much of it.

The movement toward privatization through student vouchers and expansion of Charter Schools, always in the name of “improving education”, has been a failure if that truly is the goal. A CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) study showed that while Charters have improved since 2009, they still only perform on a par with public schools. What progress they did make can largely be attributed to the closing of underperforming schools and through discouraging attendance of underperforming students.

Any fool can raise an aggregate score by eliminating the bottom participants and that becomes central to the privatization scheme. Once existing schools are destabilized through austerity budget cuts, Charter Schools replace them, but underperforming students get shunted to the few remaining public schools. Education historian, Diane Ravitch, explained it to Bill Moyers in an an interview on his show,

“I think at the rate we’re moving now, we will see places like Detroit, New Orleans, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and many, many other cities where public schools become, if they still exist, they will be a dumping ground for the kids that the charter schools don’t want. We will see the privatization of public education run rampant.”

It’s a classic case of internalizing profit and externalizing costs. Students who are difficult and/or expensive to educate remain in the public facilities, who then show poorer aggregate scores, while mainstream and above average students fill the Charters.

Coverage of the battle to sell out our education system piecemeal has framed the contest, as David Sirota put it in his column at Salon,

“The pervasive media mythology tells us that the fight over the schoolhouse is supposedly a battle between greedy self-interested teachers who don’t care about children and benevolent billionaire “reformers” whose political activism is solely focused on the welfare of kids.”  

As if profit had nothing to do with it. Profit has everything to do with it and the welfare of our children is of minor concern.

 

A lifelong politics junkie with particular interests in privatization and other business and labor issues, like minimum wage and immigration. Robert Rowen is also a writer of fiction. His first novel is called A Connecticut Yankees Fan ...in King Arthur's Court He has also published a collection of Short stories called Red Scare ...and Other Stories Both are available on Amazon.com