Eliminating public education has appeal for small-government conservatives, for libertarians opposed to policies that smack of “collectivism,” and even for the anti-secular religious right. Eliminating unions has appeal for Republicans. Public employee unions are among the few remaining large institutional competitors. But there is something else, too. The conservative push to defund public education in America – through school vouchers, charter schools, budget cuts, etc. – isn’t just about politics, ideology and fiscal restraint, but about money and class.
Just months ago, eliminating tax rate “uncertainty” was the conservative rationale for preserving the Bush tax cuts for America’s wealthiest. The euphemism for eliminating teachers’ collective bargaining rights is “flexibility,” or as someone else said, balancing budgets by trimming the fat in the constitution. The assault on public schools led by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (and supported by the billionaire Koch brothers), is just the leading edge of a national offensive being carried out in Indiana, Ohio, and elsewhere where flexibility is in vogue.
In Providence, RI last week, the local school board voted to send termination notices to the city’s 1,926 public school teachers out of what the mayor called a need for “maximum flexibility.” Local teacher’s union president, Tom Smith, called the move, “a back-door Wisconsin.”
Wall Street has to be protected from uncertainty. Public employees just need to suck it up and cope with it.
In Tennessee, legislation for eliminating collective bargaining rights for public school teachers comes to a vote in the state Senate this week. More than 3,000 showed up last week in Nashville to protest the legislation. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam also hopes to make tenure more difficult to obtain and to lift the cap on the formation of charter schools.
This week in neighboring North Carolina, where Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue wields a veto, the new Republican state legislature still hopes to pass Senate Bill 8, “No Cap on Number of Charter Schools.” SB8 – similar to the Tennessee measure – would eliminate the current cap of 100 charter schools, plus the requirement that charter schools have a minimum of 65 students. This will give charter schools (even home-schoolers, say critics) broad access to public funds, undercutting funding for traditional public schools. Appearing last week with other Democratic legislators opposed to the bill, Buncombe County representative Susan Fisher described the bill as “a backdoor voucher system.” Rep. Patsy Keever called SB8 “the dismantling of the public school system.”
People concerned with creating jobs insist that an educated workforce is key to America’s continued competitiveness and prosperity. One would think America’s moneyed interests would support public education for that reason alone. Because they need educated workers. Or do they?
In the Atlantic’s “The Rise of the New Global Elite,” Chrystia Freeland describes the super-rich as “a nation unto themselves,” more connected to each other than to their countries or their neighbors. Freeland writes that “the business elite view themselves increasingly as a global community, distinguished by their unique talents and above such parochial concerns as national identity, or devoting ‘their’ taxes to paying down ‘our’ budget deficit.” Thomas Wilson, CEO of Allstate, explains that globalization means, “I can get [workers] anywhere in the world. It is a problem for America, but it is not necessarily a problem for American business …” Why should it be?
In a global economy driven more and more by bottom-line thinking, public education is just another community expense the elite would rather not bear, isn’t it? The rich can afford private schools for their children and have little need for educated workers in the multiple cities where they own houses. How much education do gardeners and waiters really need anyway?
Why should the global elite pay taxes to educate the children of those below their station? Why pay to educate workers when they can import them on H-1B or L-1 visas and pay them less than American workers? As Allstate’s CEO implied, their companies can easily set up shop in India, Indonesia or China. Globalization means multinational corporations can simply swoop in and exploit an educated workforce in countries that have already incurred the sunk costs of developing that resource. And multinationals get to pay those foreign workers less to boot. Whether here or abroad, why not just let somebody else pay taxes for educating other people’s children?
(Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.)