President Trump and Betsy DeVos, his education secretary, have put privatization of our public schools at the center of the national school debate.
They both clearly make
expanding so-called “school choice” their top education policy. DeVos labeled traditional public schools as a “dead end,” and Trump’s inaugural called them part of “American carnage.”
The Trump administration wants to create a national voucher program by diverting federal funds from public schools. Secretary DeVos’ animus toward public schools finds expression in her opposition to some policies, regulations and initiatives that are designed to support all children. This leaves behind low-income and minority students who are disproportionately punished or sent to special education classrooms.
Most Republican lawmakers embrace this anti-public-school agenda. Deceptive terms like “tuition tax credits,” “tuition savings” or “opportunity scholarships” seem inviting. But these schemes almost always, directly or indirectly, result in less money for public schools and more for private schools or other education ventures.
Teachers, students and neighborhood/community activists have organized to secure adequate funding and demand action to protect our public schools. They want to equalize school funding for rich and poor districts. This means increasing the largely stagnant K-12 public school funding. It also means ending the drain on public educational funds when they are diverted for other purposes.
The monstrous concentration of wealth in this country has resulted in segregation by income, race/ethnicity and geography. National funding and local taxes primarily benefit white, affluent school districts, leaving other schools with fewer resources and greater needs.
Often, teachers face crowded classrooms caused by soaring enrollments and decreased funding. Teacher and student morale, as well as academic and social development, suffer with large class sizes. In an ideal world, class size would be capped at 15 to 20 students. Yet many classrooms regularly exceed 30 students, and it is not uncommon to have more than 40 students in a single class.
Teacher wages are appalling. Teacher pay has been largely stagnant since the mid-1990s and even declined compared to other professions. In about half the states, the average teacher makes less than a living wage, with some even qualifying for public assistance.
When teachers come together to improve their salaries, hours and working conditions, they are often met with hostility by Trump and his conservative minions. We need
administrators and laws that recognize the right of all workers to unite to advance their own interests. This means respecting teachers’ right to form and maintain unions.
Head Start is the primary federal preschool program for children living in low-income families. The program aims to narrow educational inequalities by providing matching funds to community programs that provide these children pre-school, health care and nutritional services as well as increase their cognitive and language skills. Despite study after study confirming the importance of Head Start, the Trump administration wants to cut its funding.
Public schools should not be commercial playgrounds for wealthy non-educators. Rather, they should be led by people with direct classroom experience. These folks are generally best equipped to respect teachers, welcome parents and treat students with dignity.
There are countless examples of exemplary public schools, private schools and charter schools across the nation that focus on high standards, community partnerships and opportunities for our youth. The private and charter schools should coexist with, not supplant, public schools.
Public schools, after all, provide most academic skills needed in American workplaces. They continue to function as the mainstay of our society.