Public schools should be for all children. The country should get behind and invest in public education and be careful about partners or those that call themselves stakeholders.
These are business words that usually mean that public education must rely on outside companies to fund education. This means public schools are no longer under the authority of the local community. They are no longer public schools. They are like a charter school. This is a sly way to privatize public education.
Partners or stakeholders might positively invest in schools, with little or no strings attached. This is a good thing.
They could also take charge of the curriculum and the management of the school. The school is then similar to a charter school.
We learn about how this attempt to transform public schools to privatization started in the 1980s by an example in the book The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America, by William Kleinknecht.
In 1985, Dixon High School in Dixon, Illinois, the school President Reagan had attended, was a school in crisis. Funding was so sparse they were in danger of shutting down their sports program. If you’ve ever lived in the Midwest you know, ending school football, basketball, and track programs is drastic.
One of President Reagan’s high school friends Helen Lawton contacted the President to plead that he do something to help his alma mater. More specifically, she wanted him to support their fund-raising efforts for the school.
Reagan had played football in his high school, and the high school band had performed at his inauguration. As an actor and President of the United States, one could say that his high school had served him well. Whether you agreed with him or not, most of us would say that President Reagan was an intelligent man.
But President Reagan, quite tellingly, laid out what would become the future disinvestment of America with public schools. He told Lawton there was nothing he could do at the federal level for his school.
He also expressed his approval that the school had received a donation from the Kiwanis Club for the school newspaper. “I am always pleased to see the private sector step in and help out,” he said (p.6).
This is how our public schools have changed. Think about how the arts have been removed from public schools, or how our school libraries have disappeared. When leaders at the local, state, and federal level look to private partners to fund public education, American students are at their mercy for their education.
Parents and teachers have been working for years to keep their public schools running well. Wealthier schools are usually better able to do this. Many schools work to raise their own funds for special programs.
How many have worked on fund raising for their children’s schools? These aren’t always for add-on activities or materials but funding to keep programs alive. How many cereal box tops have you collected to keep your high school band playing? How much time has your child put in selling merchandise so their teachers can keep extra-curricular programs in your school?
When parents struggle to pay for school programs, they might out of desperation welcome those who will partner with them to help out. The key is to determine what kind of power those partners will have over the school. Will it lead to school privatization?
This lack of American investment in public education will hurt us terribly and collectively. We can already see the damage in a teacher shortage that sees no end in sight and a growing schism in how citizens treat each other. Our children our stressed and in debt, they can’t afford college, because, with privatization, money rules!
This is not the America that I believe most of us want or which we need. I hope the next President will ensure that public education is adequately funded so that parents and educators won’t have to rely on partners and stakeholders.
William Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Perseus Books Club, 2009) 6.