We our now entering the second round of "Race to the Top." State legislatures are busy worshiping at the alter of "charter schools" in order to establish their eligibility.
The radio, television, and print ads show a very unlikely and powerful coalition supporting the demand for new charter schools - Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, JP Morgan, assorted hedge funds, Michael "Moneybags" Bloomberg, Joel "Clueless" Klein, and Reverend Al Sharpton. The impression they are trying to give is that everybody whose opinion we trust thinks it is a good idea and that the teachers and their evil union want to block reform that will benefit our children.
On May 27, 2010, JP Morgan Chase ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times with the headline The Way Forward, Investing in Our Children's Future. It cost the bank approximately $180,000. This is the same JP Morgan Chase that received a $25 billion bailout from Congress as part of the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Just because the bank can't manage its own affairs, does not mean it shouldn't manage ours.
While I hate to sound like I'm coming from the Tea Party, what defines the coalition is its contempt for public schools and ordinary people, both parents and teachers. Obama, Duncan, Bloomberg, Klein and the money managers are all products of elite private schools and send their own children to them. They have no personal experience with the system they are trying to destroy.
Their opposition to public education is politically, economically, and ideologically driven. Politically they want to distract attention from an avalanche of policy disasters. Just after Obama declared support for offshore drilling, the Gulf of Mexico is awash in petroleum. The U.S. remains buried in Iraq and Afghanistan. The banks and brokers may have recovered, but the economy, certainly the part that produces jobs, is still not functioning. There is no immigration plan and we have a health care bill but we still don't have health care. Now that all of these things are taken care of, the great minds want to fix the public schools.
Ideologically, they are blindly wedded to the free market economic approach that produced the economic disasters that continue to plague the global economy. They think they can set up publicly financed privately operated schools that will solve the problems facing inner city schools. They assure us that government regulation will make sure that the profit making businesses that will run the schools will provide the required services and high-class education.
I don't know if the people promoting the charter schools are liars or fools. Did government regulation of private companies protect the Gulf of Mexico from British Petroleum, U.S. soldiers from shoddy Halliburton supplied materials, or American savings, jobs, and mortgages from ravenous bankers?
Charter schools virtually equal corruption. According to The New York Times, which supports the charter school initiative with added oversight, "during its first years of operation, the Niagara Charter School in Niagara Falls spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets, restaurant meals and alcohol, and more than $100,000 on no-bid consulting contracts," the Roosevelt Children's Academy hired two of the school's board members as managers and paid them hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the Family Life Charter School in the Bronx pays $400,000 annually to rent classroom space from a church whose minister is also the school's founder. Is this the solution to improving public education in the United States?
But this is just small potatoes. Just wait until the big banks and corporations see there are mega-profits to be made in the new service industry. Do you remember the dot.com and housing bubbles and there impact on our lives?
Al Sharpton's support for charter schools is a different story. Reverend Al is a graduate of Tilden High School in Brooklyn and knows the public schools. I suspect his opposition to public education is economically based. Sharpton's organizations are dependent on donations from wealthy individuals and foundations, the same wealthy individuals and foundations that want to dismantle the public schools. The New York Times reported last year that they accepted a $500,000 donation from supporters of Mayor Moneybags just about the same time they decided not to oppose Bloomberg's efforts to overturn term limits or to retain mayoral control over the school system. Sharpton and his followers may also have another goal. Publicly funded privately operated charter schools can be a gravy train for small community-based organizations and church groups that are struggling to survive.
The reality is that most middle-class suburban parents in the United States are very happy with the public schools their children attend. Inner-city schools with working-class and poor minority student populations have not had the same level of success or satisfaction, but as far as I can tell there is no magic bullet.
In the meantime, we are being fleeced. My fear is that once charter schools open the door, private school vouchers will rush in, and the entire public school system will be dismantled. Then we can hire Wal-Mart and McDonald's, or maybe Halliburton and AIG, to run our schools. But don't worry, they may not do a very good job educating children, but they will be "too big to fail."