Public education is implemented by private entities – textbook publishers, teachers, building contractors, software developers, teachers unions, parents – with private concerns. Privatization occurs when government allows these private concerns to usurp the public good.
Republicans often blame teachers unions for privatization, but these criticisms are unfair. For more than 15 years, I was a teachers union leader responsible for helping negotiate teacher employment contracts with school boards. In these negotiations, I was legally obligated to represent the private interests of teachers. Albert Shanker, a long-time national teacher union leader, was often criticized for stating his job was to represent teachers and not students or the public, but he was simply asserting a legal fact. Teachers unions sell memberships to teachers and in exchange are legally required to represent them. School boards are responsible for representing the public. If a school board signs a union contract that promotes privatization by allowing the private interests of teachers to trump the public good, that’s the school board’s fault.
Democrats, on the other hand, like to blame for-profit corporations for privatizing public education, but these criticisms are also off target. For-profit corporations have the same legal obligation as teachers unions to advocate on behalf of their stakeholders. If a school board negotiates a contract that puts the interests of a for-profit corporation above the public good, again, that’s the school board’s fault.
School boards also further privatization when they respond to parental choice by acting like private corporations more concerned with protecting their business interests than the public’s interest.
In Indiana last week, The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne reported that its local school board discussed how it could more successfully compete for students against charter and private schools. Board members were unhappy about potential losses in market share “because losing students means losing funds.” Board member Steve Corona worried about competition from charter and private schools putting district-owned schools “out of business,” and board President Mark GiaQuinta said the district needed to do a better job making the case against charter schools.
Here in Florida, the Florida Times-Union reported last week that school board members in Duval County rejected two charter school applications because they feared losing additional market share in district-owned schools that were already losing enrollment.
Similar discussions are occurring at school board meetings around the country. Continue Reading →