Quick - when you hear "public housing," what picture jumps into your mind? Or "public hospital"?
All around us, our public institutions are disintegrating, and the most important public institution of all – our public education system – is the next to be ghettoized.
Despite several progressive victories this Election Day, there was one significant defeat in Georgia, as voters approved of Constitutional Amendment 1, which changes Georgia’s Constitution to give Republicans in that state the power to create charter schools as part of Georgia’s public education system. The result will be crucial taxpayer dollars being funneled away from free public schools and directed toward brand new, sometimes for-profit, privately-run charter schools.
Even though studies show that costly private schools don’t produce any better educational results than free public schools, for-profit schools have popped up all around the nation in recent years because of how valuable they are to corporate America. In fact, the historic Chicago Teachers Union strike earlier this year was largely in response to the city’s push to open up more charter schools to replace traditional public schools.
Education is a recession-proof industry that will always be in high demand. The corporate money-changers know if they can get their hands on this industry, "reform" it to replace decently-paid teachers and faculty with McTeachers, and then get taxpayers to foot the bill, quarterly profits and lavish bonuses for CEOs can explode. Even in so-called "non-profit" charter schools, management can make big bucks.
And that’s exactly what Georgia’s Constitutional Amendment 1 accomplishes. Expect similar amendments to pop up in other state elections in the near future.
This is a major shot in the multigenerational war on public education part of our commons.
Ultimately, as more states pass charter school amendments like Georgia, and money is sucked out of public schools, then public schools will meet the same fate as the rest of the ghettoized public institutions in America.
Public education will be just like public housing, which most Americans think of as low-income, crime-ridden neighborhoods. Or it will be like public hospitals, which most Americans see as disease-ridden institutions filled with impoverished, sick people. Because, in both cases, these institutions principally serve the very poor, there’s little sympathy for Americans stuck in public housing or public hospitals. Little sympathy also translates into little funding, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty and the disintegration of our public institutions.
But up until the Reagan "reforms," public education had avoided this same ghettoizing fate. Historically, our public education system was a marvel for the rest of the world, producing generations of scientists, doctors, and engineers from all races and socio-economic classes. Whether you came from a wealthy family or a poor family, the American public education system didn’t discriminate. As much as possible, it was a multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-class public institution that produced great results.
But as state governments embrace for-profit charter schools, traditional public schools will be neglected and see their funding cut until eventually they, too, will suffer the same fate that ghettoized public housing and public hospitals.
Even prominent Republicans are owning up to this. After passage of Georgia’s Constitutional Amendment 1, Lee Raudonis, the former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party, penned an op-ed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution warning that passage of the amendment was, “an endorsement for a drastically altering public education as most Americans define it.”
Raudonis foresees a future in which there’s a “new type of public school” as a result of this move toward charter schools. He describes this new public school as, “one for those children whose parents were not motivated enough to move them into a charter or private school or for whom there were none available.”
After all, there will be a lot of low-income parents who simply can't afford to pay a bit more for a private education for their child or whose low-income neighborhood wasn’t chosen for a new charter school location. And, tragically, there's no shortage of poor parents who are dysfunctional because of the poverty-associated diseases of drug addiction and mental illness. The kids of these parents will be forced to into cash-strapped, forgotten public schools. As Raudonis concludes, “public schools will come to be viewed similarly to public housing and public hospitals, as places for children whose parents, for whatever reasons, cannot find a better alternative.”
This will mark the beginning of the end for not just public education in America, but also for the American middle class itself, which is shrinking faster and faster each day. Public schools will be the new dumping ground for the poor and the working poor. And just as public housing provides the bare minimum for its inhabitants, and just as public hospitals provide the bare minimum for their patients, the new ghettoized public schools will provide a bare minimum of education for low-income students.
The public education system itself will no longer be America's great equalizer, churning out successful students from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Instead, it will shackle the poor, keeping them from learning the essentials needed to find that great job for the 21st century and move up the economic ladder into the middle class – to achieve the American Dream.
America needs to "just say no" to public funding of private schools.