Kim Schroeder MJ Sentinel 12/15/16
Mark Twain said, “We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”
Public schools are a fundamental piece of American democracy, with 91% of all American students attending public schools. They remain the only educational institutions with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to educate all students. Defunding our public schools would be a threat to the quality of life and well-being of children in every Zip code.
But now, this most cherished of American democratic institutions is facing its greatest threat with the appointment by presidentelect Donald Trump of billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary. De-Vos, a longstanding member of the GOP corporate elite, is known for some of the most aggressive failed free-market experiments seen in America’s publicschools. DeVos’ track record speaks clearly. If she is confirmed by the Senate, students who attend public elementary and secondary schools will see billions of dollars siphoned from their public schools into unaccountable privatevouchers and charters.
Some Trump backers claim that they wanted to shake up the establishment, but DeVos comes from a family of wellfinanced billionaires tightly woven into the Republican, corporate-dominated political machine. They have helped fund every Republic presidential candidate for the last 50 years and are deeply embedded in the world of dark money groups such as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, and Blackwater.
Betsy DeVos was one of the key players who pushed for Michigan’s charter school law, which passed in 1993. The disaster of Detroit’s private charter system is her legacy.
Nearly $1 billion of public dollars are siphoned away from Michigan public schools every year. According to the New York Times, “over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.” For-profit companies operate over 80% of Detroit’s charters, more than in any other state.
Critics may say that not all charter schools are bad,which may be true. But only a small percentage of private charters outperform traditional public schools. And private schools serve fewer English-language learners andchildren with special needs; expel a disproportionatenumber of minority students; and, even though they are funded with public dollars, are not held to the same legal standards as public schools. We should not consider funding these schools with public dollars unless they are held to the same standards as public schools.
The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association represents the educators who work with the children and families of Milwaukee Public Schools. We cannot stand by as the private school profiteers cheer, waiting for DeVos to funnel every last dollar from our public schools into their bank accounts — without any strings attached. This single cabinet appointment could undo decades of advances in public education set up to protect the educational rights of every child in this nation.
Kim Schroeder is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.