Are community schools privatizing public education from within through partnerships? If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, isn’t it a duck?
It’s hard to distinguish the Biden administration’s Full-Service Community Schools and Charter School difference (see below).
Americans fail to invest in schools and children have unmet health care needs, so schools become reliant on wealthy partners who’ll fund schools and wrap-around healthcare services for children.
The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy writes:
School districts are so underfunded and desperate for money, that they have developed a kind of Stockholm syndrome, in which they honor and praise the very same corporations that are starving our schools by not paying their taxes.
Charity is not a replacement for government. When we fund schools through taxes, we have democratically elected representatives who decide how to best spend those funds for the common good. In contrast, with charitable contributions, corporations decide what is best for our schools and dictate how to use their donations.
1. Privatization From Within
In this Truthout article, Donald Cohen, co-author with Allen Mikaelian of the book The Privatization of Everything, writes:
. . .privatization embeds private interests into the public things that matter most, like the schools that teach us and our children, the public transportation we rely on to get around, and the energy that powers our homes and businesses. These private interests have different goals than the public. Social responsibility and preventing negative externalities are priorities only when they improve profits.
That’s why we must insist that, in a democratic society, we get to decide that some things should be free of private interests.
Community schools might have nice partners who share decision-making. Sometimes charter schools and private schools do too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that the school continues to be public.
It divides society further into poor and wealthy schools, partly the intent of school privatization.
2. Communities in Schools
The nonprofit Communities In Schools (CIS), funded by corporations, a dropout prevention program, recently received $133.5 million from Mackenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, seen next to Bill and Melinda Gates, charter school, and privatization supporters.
The Gates Foundation gave $9.9 million to Communities in Schools for Performance Learning Centers (PLCs) in four states.
According to Our Future West Virginia:
CIS IS a highly funded, and branded, incorporated non-profit whose net assets after expenses in 2018 totaled $51,421,073; its largest funders include Abbvie, a large pharmaceutical company, Altria, one of the country’s largest tobacco companies, American Express, AT&T, and Bank of America. CIS serves both public and charter schools, leaving the embrace of charter schools very much on the table alongside CIS’s implementation.
Scott, the Gates Foundation, and other wealthy donors donate to CIS, which doles out funding to school districts as it sees fit, including providing their own school staff.
Public schools become reliant on Communities in Schools and wealthy partners who say how schools should run, how funding will be distributed.
3. Relying on Social Services and Social Impact Bonds
Wealthy partners often invest in community schools with Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) or Pay for Success (PFS).
Professors Martin Carnoy, Stanford University, and Roxana Marachi, San José State University, wrote Investing for “Impact” or Investing for Profit? Social Impact Bonds, Pay for Success, and the Next Wave of Privatization of Social Services and Education.
Recent legislation means that education leaders need a good understanding of SIBs: Pay for Success (PFS) financing structures are embedded in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and through the Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA), millions of dollars are likely to soon be distributed to support SIB arrangements. Therefore, we urge education leaders to recognize that such projects have been designed to (a) turn public services into centers for the extraction of private profit; (b) view individuals from a deficit lens, as in need of being “fixed” with narrow/short-term metrics of success; (c) amass vast amounts of data that can be used for predictive profiling of targeted communities, and (d) remove community voice and control from governance of public services.
No matter how well-intentioned private investors may appear to be, they are ultimately governed by private interests. No matter how easily and often those private interests can be rationalized as aligning with public interests, that is unlikely to be the case.
4. Biden Administration’s Community/Charter Push
The Biden administration calls them Full-Service Community Schools here. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Education published, How Charter Schools Can Leverage Community Assets through Partnerships.
Community schools are charter schools!
Community partnerships empower charter schools by strengthening their capacity to serve the needs of students, families, and staff through deliberate partnerships with community-based entities. The autonomy that charter schools are afforded uniquely equips them with the flexibility to engage partners and even design schools for which one or more partnerships are a key design element–such as with traditional public schools/districts, industry partners, colleges, universities, or other educational or community institutions
For the purposes of this paper, we consider a community partnership to be a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship between a school or charter management organization (CMO) and at least one organization or provider based in their community that enhances academic offerings at the school and/or helps address issues of mutual concern. While some charter schools are based on a model that makes reciprocal involvement with their communities part of their approach to learning, community partnerships can expand the capacity of any school to deliver on its mission, values, and goals.
5. Continuous Data Collection
The Aspen Institute, supportive of school privatization, includes a report about partnerships. They emphasize collaboratively developing clear goals and metrics that align with the vision, including a commitment to share data that can drive continuous improvement.
Collecting data on student academics and social-emotional learning is a big part of community schools with partnerships.
Community schools are a new way to make charter schools; the concept is rapidly increasing.
To save public education, we need to meet the healthcare and educational needs of children with public funds and not be reliant on corporate assistance.
If corporations want to donate to schools, there need to be strict protocols as to who determines how that money is spent.
However, if community schools continue as they stand today, it will be a slippery slope to school privatization and the end of public education.