By NAT WEINSTEIN
The Economist, a London-based weekly, reports in the Business section of its Jan. 16, 1999, edition on another giant rip-off roaring along at full speed. The report describes the amazing progress of privatization of public education in the United States.
The report begins by citing the building of one of the world’s biggest education companies, Knowledge Universe, headed by Michael Milken, “the junk-bond king who once earned $500 million in a single year.”
And right behind Milken is another giant private education enterprise, Kindercare, owned by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, described as “a buyout firm that strikes fear into managers the world over.”
“Why is everybody suddenly so excited?” asks The Economist. “Because of the parallels investors see between education now and health care in the U.S. 25 years ago. Health care then, the article explains, was mostly “stuck” in the “public and voluntary sectors.” Today, however, “it is a multi-billion dollar, largely private, industry.”
Get it? Now a lot of rich people, according to this magazine, can’t wait to get their hooks into the business of education as had been done to health care. The authors list a slew of billionaires attracted by the $635 billion the United States spends on education every year. And since private companies only have 13 percent of the education business, there’s a veritable fortune to be made.
The magazine doesn’t say, but it knows, that there’s much resistance to privatization of schools by the great majority. The trick is to strangle funding of the public schools so that there are not enough books or teachers but plenty of pupils in each class, more than each teacher can teach.
The result would be ever larger proportions of youngsters falling through the gaping holes in the system, ever more of whom are what is rudely described as “functionally illiterate,” as if it were their own fault.
That way, parents who can find the money to do so are desperately turning to for-profit private schools. And since public schools are allotted so much for each pupil-and the fewer pupils, the more costly it becomes to educate each one-the public education system automatically degenerates. Starved for funds, there are less books, less teachers, and ever fewer class rooms.
So how does President Clinton propose to fix the crumbling system of public education? Easy:
First: “All schools must end social promotions.” That means that if pupils don’t learn (the lazy dopes!) just leave them back. “But,” our champion of public education declares, “we can’t hold students back when the system fails them. So my balanced budget triples the funding for summer school and after-school programs.”
Second: If schools fail to improve, we will shut them down. And to finance these two quick fixes, Clinton says, “my budget includes $200 million to help states turn around their failing schools.” But this figure pales to insignificance in a system costing $635 billion a year to run!
Third: Another problem needing fixing, according to Clinton, is the fault of teachers who can’t teach. But no teacher can teach 30 to 40 kids in one classroom-even if they have books, not to mention computers. If the physical components are not provided, the best teachers in the world can’t fix an inadequately funded system of public education.
Fourth: Now we come to his real program-“We must empower parents with more information and more choices.”
We will soon find out that that means vouchers and thinly disguised subsidies for the corporate educational entrepreneurs, parochial schools, and (of course) the latest version of privatizing schools by putting public schools under for-profit managers-i.e., “public” charter schools-all of which will eventually be gobbled up by one or another educational corporation.
Fifth: Discipline, discipline discipline. If the kids don’t learn, punish them. That’ll teach their parents to beg, borrow, or steal the money needed to put their kids at the tender mercies of the likes of Misters Milken, Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts and the pack of profiteers swarming behind them.
There’s a lot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the education merchants: the $635 billion the federal, state, and local governments allot for education each year.