Thomas Jefferson said “there is no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of society, but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” Jefferson knew that a “well educated populace” was key to ensuring voters could make informed decisions in choosing their representatives to run the government. Unlike in Jefferson’s day, all Americans are entitled to a free, public education through the 12th grade and if every student graduates with proficiency in the core subjects, they have the opportunity to go on to college, or at least function in society with some degree of success.
The Bush Administration’s signature education bill was No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and it has drawn criticism from teachers, parents, and school districts for a variety of reasons including that it never gave schools resources to reach proficiency standards and that its results were that teachers were left teaching to a test. Another common complaint was that NCLB’s requirement that 100% of students meet proficiency standards in math and reading by 2014 was statistically impossible. Schools that fail to make significant progress face sanctions and eventual closure even though the federal government failed to provide funding and resources to achieve the lofty standards. Many schools complained that NCLB restricted their flexibility to implement positive changes based on their student population and state curriculum; now, they have the opportunity to prove themselves.
On Friday, President Obama gave states the opportunity to opt out of NCLB if they meet certain conditions such as setting standards to prepare students for college and careers, and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals. The president has waited for Congress to act, but since they have not, Obama made the decision that should please states that complained they were punished under NCLB’s rules that deemed them as failures if they did not meet Federal standards. NCLB’s requirements sound marvelous on their face, but there was a motivation that did not involve educating students that teachers and administrators figured out early on. By setting impossible to meet requirements that 100% of students were proficient on standardized tests by 2014, failing schools faced closure and parents could use taxpayer money to send their children to private, charter, or parochial schools. In other words, the impetus was to eventually eliminate public schools, break teacher unions, and privatize education.
That scenario is playing out in states such as Michigan where the governor appoints an emergency financial manager who has the power to shutter entire school districts. In lieu of public education, private charter schools were given taxpayer dollars and teachers were left without union representation and the right to bargain collectively. Now, the Ohio House Education Committee passed a bill, HB136 that consolidates and expands many of the state’s voucher scholarships for private schools. The vouchers are available to students in any district whose family makes less than $95,000. Similar moves are being implemented in many states with Republican legislatures that are cutting public education budgets and increasing taxpayer dollars for private schools. In Ohio, Governor Kasich has redirected funds away from public schools and it is estimated that Ohio school districts will lose a billion dollars in state funding this school year.
Ohio Department of Education figures reveal that EdChoice, the Milton Friedman private school organization, grew by 13% this school year and it drains money from public schools in the form of vouchers that taxpayers fund. The goal conservatives have been panting for is elimination of public education so private enterprise can take over the job of educating America’s school children. The rub is that taxpayers will be funding private enterprise with no input into how schools are run. The benefit to state budgets is nothing whatsoever. Teachers have the most to lose because private schools pay substandard wages and avoid benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, vacations, and nearly anything they please as private businesses.
President Obama’s move of allowing states to opt out of NCLBs impossible to meet requirements will save public schools from losing state and federal funding to privatized schools. The public school system worked well before NCLB, but conservatives want the public’s money to go to corporations that run charter schools and private religious schools; it is an outrage that taxpayer dollars are being used to enrich corporations. There is an ongoing effort to privatize all areas of the government and the school vouchers have benefited greatly from NCLB’s impossible requirements. Many school teachers complained from the start of NCLB that the program was a move to eliminate public schools, break unions, and shift taxpayer dollars to private, for profit schools. Private schools do not have the same standards as public schools, and private school teachers often do not have adequate training or the credentials required in public schools.
There has been an ongoing effort to demonize teachers as lazy, good-for-nothings who have guaranteed lifetime jobs with little accountability who are draining taxpayer dollars while giving sub-standard results. It happened earlier this year in Wisconsin and as tax dollars are drying up due to a lack of revenue, teachers have taken pay cuts and reduced benefits just to keep their jobs. All the while, NCLB’s requirements and standardized testing have stayed in place with hopes that more schools come up short so the government will close them and use taxpayer dollars to fund private enterprise schools.
Taxpayers should be furious that their tax dollars are being used to fund private schools. Now that President Obama has given states the opportunity to opt out of NCLB, schools will have flexibility to tailor instruction to their populations instead of a federal standard. The bigger concern should be the persistent attempts by Republicans to privatize schools, Medicare, Social Security, roads and bridges, and all government agencies. Privatizing schools or any government agency is not about saving money, but about enriching corporations with taxpayer dollars. It is an issue that has been in the making for a long time and as conservatives gain more control of the government, it will not be long until there is no government except for the corporations that contribute the most money to Republicans.
Free enterprise is one thing, but allowing schools or any government agency to be owned and operated by corporations is going too far. If government was meant to be profitable, the Founders would surely have included it in the Constitution, but they did not. The school privatization movement just took a damaging blow and every teacher in America owes a debt of gratitude to President Obama for disrupting Republicans’ plans to steal taxpayer money to fund private schools. Be aware though, that Republicans will begin an all-out offensive portraying the president as expanding presidential power and being an authoritative dictator because he did the right thing by teachers, public schools, and every student in America. Republicans had their opportunity to do the right thing, but they refused because it is just not in their nature.