Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Invasion of the Public School Snatchers


Public schools are in danger. The public school, that long-standing symbol and foundation of democracy, is threatened by people who either sincerely believe that our public schools are failures (they are not) and that "school choice" is the answer (it is not), or who are deeply entwined with the privatizing forces that hope to make a profit by their demise. It is my belief that most of those carrying the "school choice" mantra forward, are in the latter group, because evidence exists that school choice is not the solution for the problems besetting urban schools. Betsy Devos is certainly one of those rabid reformers who cares little for results, wants no transparency for the charter schools she supports, and would love nothing more than to take tax dollars away from public schools and transfer them to unregulated charters or religious schools.

Betsy DeVos has long shown us that she is an advocate for corporate welfare, not social welfare. She married into the Amway fortune, worth an estimated $5.1 billion. The company cons those who are hopeful of developing their own lucrative business into investing in nothing less than a pyramid scheme. Investigations have shown that 99% of those who become Amway distributors lose money. Most of the money lost goes right into the pockets of the DeVos family, as they charge expensive fees for seminars, motivational books, and materials. A case prosecuted in Wisconsin in the 80's showed that the top 1% of Amway distributors in the state showed a net income of minus $900. This did not stop the DeVos clan from continuing to internationally capitalize on what is clearly a scam that targets and defrauds those who are desperate for additional income to support their families.

Through her brother, Erik Prince, Betsy is also connected to the Blackwater USA (now known as Academi) mercenary group. Four Blackwater operators were sentenced to prison for ordering their forces to open fire on unarmed civilians in Iraq in 2007, killing 14. They have made their fortune by privatizing war, and as in all privatization schemes, unnecessary casualties are to be expected. It appears that Betsy DeVos and her family see loss of investments, and even loss of life, as merely the cost of doing business.

Where Betsy has truly been busy, however, is in pushing the debacle of school choice and vouchers upon her home state of Michigan, with absolutely no accountability or oversight to make sure that those schools are serving the best interests of children. The New York Times states it would be "difficult to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos."  For at least three decades, she has pushed her privatization agenda while attacking teacher unions and public schools. She is what is known as a "disruptor," someone who creates "churn" in public schools by transferring their tax dollars and resources to private schools.

To better understand the devastation that the DeVos model of school "reform" creates, we can look at what has happened to education in Detroit. The New York Times calls the situation in Detroit "a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States." DeVos "advocacy" has unleashed too many unregulated charters, leading to a dog-eat-dog climate in which no school can thrive. The corporate competition has created a situation where tax dollars are stretched too thin, leaving limited resources for all schools. Forget churn, this city sees its education dollars sucked into a bottomless whirlpool. The claim of reformers that choice will improve all education has been firmly disproven as half of Detroit charters perform only as well as (which does not say much) or even worse than, the city's public schools. 

DeVos has been heavily involved in the Detroit debacle. She established the Great Lakes Education Project to fight for and protect the city's charter schools. She fought back against a cap on charter growth that would have prevented failing charter schools from opening new faciliites, and made sure that the state would have no authority to monitor their performance. A system was created in which the institutions who are charged with granting new charters receive as much as one-third of the tax dollars that go to the charters. Charters therefore have no difficulty finding institutions to approve their often faulty business plans. 

Other difficulties with the choice model - which can also be found in other places such as New York City - is that it allows for cherry-picking of students, preventing those with disabilities or behavior problems from obtaining a slot. They also can expel troublesome or needy students once the "count day" has passed. After "count day," students can be sent back to the public school while their state funding remains with the charter.

DeVos has campaigned for vouchers that serve to transfer public tax dollars to charters, religious schools, and home schools. Gifting state vouchers to students to pay part of private school tuition will not help the most needy, who cannot afford the remainder of tuition on their own. It is nothing less than another financial subsidy to the wealthy. In Wisconsin, 75% of students who applied for vouchers were already enrolled in private schools. State legislator Gordon Hintz said that the program has "created a system in which taxpayers are paying for private education." 

Voucher schemes also violate the constitutional separation of church and state, one of the principles our country was founded on. Politico recently reported that DeVos gave a speech in which she claimed that education reform will "advance God's kingdom." In states like Georgia, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Florida when voucher measures have been legislated, taxpayer funds went to schools that taught creationism, racist intolerance, homophobia, and/or science denial curriculum. Education activist and scholar Jonathan Kozol called vouchers "the single worst, most dangerous idea to have entered education discourse in my adult life."

Whatever side of the political spectrum people land on, I do not understand how anyone could advocate for transferring public school resources paid for by our tax dollars, over to privately held, for-profit corporations. I know that many people are against Common Core and federal intrusion into our schools, yet see nothing wrong with school choice. Some of them have had negative experience with their inner-city school, and would like to throw the baby out with the bath water because they don't see a way to "fix" the problem. They are more than ready to believe the privatizer message that school choice and vouchers are the answer for inner-city children who are stuck in schools located in impoverished communities without resources. How will taking more money away from those schools help the problems? How will diverting students to a multitude of privately run charters that are not accountable to the state nor to local school boards, create anything but an opportunity for fraud and misuse of tax dollars? We know that inequity in funding exists. Increasing that inequity will only serve the wealthy, increase segregation, and create a "caste system" in education. We cannot allow this to happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment