If you have any doubt about the Republican-libertarian-right wing agenda to privatize public schools, please read this piece from a Washington Post blog written by Valerie Strauss called The Answer Sheet. In it, the Network for Public Education's Carrol Burris interviews Charles Siler, a former lobbyist for the school privatization people. Understand that the privatizers want to destroy public education and unions and they have loads of money to do it.
The beginning of the interview:
BURRIS: Let’s get straight to the point. It is becoming more obvious that all of the voucher and charter expansion legislation we see this year is part of a larger mission being pushed by libertarian Republicans. First, am I right? And second, what is the ultimate goal?
SILER: There’s virtually no other initiative in the education space that’s a bigger priority for the Right today than creating and expanding unaccountable, unrestricted, universal voucher programs. The easiest way to recognize this reality is to look at the incredible number of school voucher bills being pushed across state legislatures just this year.
They aren’t doing it because their constituents are demanding these programs. Voters continually reject voucher programs, and in any state where a public response is permitted, the wave of public opposition to these programs dwarfs the astro-turfed support for them. They also fervently refuse to include any kind of measures to mitigate fraud, waste, abuse and lack of accountability in these voucher programs despite having evidence from established programs. But simply setting up voucher programs isn’t their ultimate goal; it’s just the current next step towards their ultimate goal.
Their ideal is a world with as minimal public infrastructure and investment as possible. They want the weakest and leanest government possible in order to protect the interests of a few wealthy individuals and families who want to protect their extraction of wealth from the rest of us. They see private wealth accumulation as a virtue signal because a person can only become wealthy by creating something of exceptional value for the public. In their world view, the more money someone has, the more moral life they've lived, and any attempt to take that money through taxation or other means is a moral issue.
That's why they work so diligently to undermine public infrastructure, whether that's public schools, public transportation, military spending, and even the carceral system.
They also work to undermine collective action in the form of unions, voting blocks, protests, and more. To them, it's equally immoral for a union to demand higher wages of a business owner as it is for voters to impose a higher minimum wage on business owners. The same people pushing for school privatization are the same ones pushing for voter suppression, and that's why. They fear the power of people.
On charter schools:
BURRIS: We are now seeing charter expansion legislation paired with voucher legislation. How do charter schools fit into the agenda?
SILER: Charter schools are part of the incremental march towards full privatization. Sometimes charter schools are part of the hook for large donors. A number of wealthy privatization financiers have become part of the movement by funding large grants and other programs for charter schools.
Also, charter schools can be set up in a number of different ways depending on the local political climate, all while starting the shift of public funds into private investments. Charter schools also help garner the support of white voters as charters often find creative ways to discriminate against students of color, increasing segregation. Charters create a number of loopholes in the public education space, from financial and academic accountability to legal protections for marginalized students, which begin to normalize those problems for the general public. In many ways, charter schools are the gateway to total public school dismantling.
BURRIS: Who are the major funders of the so-called school choice movement, and why are they hostile to public education?
SILER: I can’t speak about specific funders or donors who haven’t been identified already in a public way, but some are pretty obvious. Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has made dismantling public schools part of her life’s work, and through the DeVos Family Foundation, she funds privatization efforts across the country. Her work as a financier likely has done and will do more damage to public schools than her entire tenure with the Trump Administration.
The heirs of the Walmart fortune, the Walton family, also funds privatization across the country — especially charter schools. The Koch Foundation is probably the most publicly villainized supporters of dismantling public schools, and in many ways, there wouldn’t be such a vast network of pro-privatization advocates had it not been for the tireless support of Charles and David Koch. There’s also the Bradley Foundation which contributes to numerous conservative groups and is also a financial driver of school privatization.
But it's not just billionaires. It's also local businesses funding privatization efforts, either through donations made by their owners or investments into state and local chambers of commerce. It's individuals, small donors, too. But they really aren't sufficient to make the entire machine, the industry of school privatization, function. It truly takes the massive investment of the exceptionally wealthy to drive the privatization agenda.
Their hostility to public education is best described as being the nexus of three parts. First, they want to minimize any government spending whatsoever, and public education is one of the largest line items in any state budget. Getting rid of public education spending would massively reduce the tax burden on wealthy individuals at the state level.
Public schools are also incredibly popular, and they don’t want the general public to view public institutions as effective or popular. It’s why they’ve driven a false narrative about “failing schools” for decades now, and it’s also why they continually attack Social Security, Medicare, public pensions, public transportation, and more because they know it’s impossible to get people to share their vision for limited government when people have so many positive experiences with government programs. And lastly, it’s about diminishing collective power. Taking down public schools also means taking down teachers’ unions, PTO’s, local school boards, and all the other ways those of us who aren’t exceptionally wealthy come together to push for collective investment in our communities.
Public schools and the communities around them represent the kind of togetherness privatization advocates despise.