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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Question the value of private and charter schools

ANGELO MERCARDO [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] / FLICKR
The current administration poses a unique threat to American public education

Betsy DeVos’s narrow confirmation as Secretary of Education, in which Vice President Mike Pence had to step in to break a tie, has stirred up unexpected controversy for a position that has historically been confirmed without much opposition. As a department considered less important than others, the federal government’s role in education is limited in scope, and most of the power with respect to education resides at local and state levels. However, the fierce opposition to Betsy DeVos’s confirmation has raised pertinent questions about many long-standing issues of the U.S. education system.

DeVos’s controversial views on American education are already well-known. She believes in the privatization of public schools and has long advocated for the expansion of charter schools and for-profit schools, as demonstrated by her efforts in her home state of Michigan. As justification for her views, she believes that all parents — rich and poor —  should have the luxury of choice in deciding where to send their children to school. The DeVos couple has consequently poured their enormous wealth into private schools, leading to the rapid growth of charters in Michigan.

Charter schools receive government funding, but aren’t part of established public school districts. They’re governed by separate non-federal institutions — some for-profit, others mostly non-profit. So even though they’re funded by taxpayers, they’re under no obligation to perform to the same standards as public schools. They’re an example of public asset privatization, and can charge any tuition they like, with the freedom to change the curricula any way they want.

While charter schools were meant to provide a smaller, more intimate learning environment, the institutions and people governing these schools often have their own agendas. This has led to a rapid increase in religious schools that teach according to their beliefs. The students attending would potentially be unprotected from racial or gender discrimination because the schools don’t have to match the same standards of transparency as public schools. These schools blur the separation between church and state, and many teach controversial topics such as creationism instead of evolution, the evils of homosexuality and the “harmful” effects of birth control. Private schools may teach a similar curriculum, but the key difference is that private schools don’t receive taxpayer funds. It’s unfair for taxpayers to spend their money on these schools when they receive no information about — and may not even agree with — the state of children’s education at the charters.

So why are parents sending their children to such schools, especially if they cost more? The answer lies in the growing number of school vouchers. School vouchers are state-funded programs that pay for students’ tuition, allowing lower-income families to afford education at good private schools. Voucher schools are also private schools — but of a slightly different category. Most of the students’ tuition is paid by school vouchers, but the schools themselves follow the rules and regulations of private institutions.

The bigger issue with most charter and voucher schools is that most of them are run by corporate organizations only interested in profits. Much like the public-school system, charter schools have varying degrees of academic performance throughout the country — which mainly depend on the socioeconomic level of their locations. Poor or rural neighborhoods have lower educational standards at their high schools, while the urban elite have access to much better public education and a wider choice of private schools. While public schools in rural areas may be incentivized or given additional support to help improve their students’ performances, the government is not responsible for the students in charter schools.

The current administration should realize that governing the most powerful country in the world takes very different skills than running a large corporation. In a company, profits and losses are the first and foremost priority. In a country, the citizens’ well-being and security take precedence. And unlike most other policies, the way we approach education will affect the future generations that will grow up to make important decisions for the country.

It’s our responsibility to make sure that those are good decisions.
Written by: Shohini Maitra — samaitra@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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