by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
They did it in New Orleans thanks to Katrina – closed over a hundred public schools and fired thousands to create the nation's first and highly profitable all-charter school district, an educational failure but a neoliberal social engineering masterpiece. They did it to Detroit without a hurricane. Is Georgia next, and your city or state after that?
We Won't Be New Orleans or Detroit: Stopping the Bipartisan Drive To Privatize Education in Georgia
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
When Democrats and Republicans disagree you generally hear about it in the corporate media. But on many matters that vitally affect the lives and fortunes of millions, Democratic and Republican one percenters pretty much agree, so you find almost no discussion of those matters in corporate media one way or the other.
One subject elite Democrats and Republicans are of a single mind on is public education, especially public education in poorer neighborhoods. They mostly agree that schools should adopt the punitive but profitable “test and punish” regimes championed by many pundits, charter schools and of course the testing companies which are raking in billions of public dollars. Once percenters of both parties agree that public schools which fail to meet these unfair but highly profitable measures of success should be replaced by even more profitable charter schools. Democratic president Barack Obama has been the undisputed champion of school privatization, fulfilling his pledge to close and “turn around” 5,000 public schools in poor neighborhoods in his first term alone.
Charter schools are private schools that operate with public money but are largely exempt from the accounting, instructional, labor law, ethical or conflict-of-interest norms which apply to public schools. Unlike public schools, many charter schools can reject students for any reason or no reason. They can substitute unqualified persons for experienced teachers, even substitute “online instruction” for meat-space classroom sessions, award food service, instructional, or maintenance contracts to relatives or friends or board members. Sometimes crooked charter schools are even allowed to hide their educational malpractice by putting the names of public schools on their diplomas.
Breaking up public schools is good for the charter school industry, good for the testing industry, and good for real estate types because real estate speculators don't make much money off stable working class neighborhoods. Charter schools don't do a better job of educating children, but they're quite efficient at diverting billions of public dollars into wealthy private hands which in turn contribute to politicians of both parties.
Georgia is home to 3.3 million people of African descent, more than any other state in the union. Its state government is dominated by white Republicans, while Democrats, mostly black, hold a lot of local power and are a large bloc in the legislature. The state's Republican governor, with the cooperation of many Democrats placed an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot for November 2016, cynically misnamed the “Opportunity School District” or OSD amendment. OSD creates a single floating school district encompassing the entire state, a district whose officials will be appointed by the governor. OSD's unaccountable officials can create as many charter schools as they want to replace public schools designated as “failing” by the placement of biased and rigged standardized tests, designed to provide the excuse for school closures.
The initial list of the first hundred plus public elementary and high schools the governor wants to close was released last year. Nearly all the targeted schools are in the Atlanta area, and just about all are black schools. The last time this many black public schools, this many public schools period were closed at once was post-Katrina New Orleans, which state officials transformed into the nation's first all-charter school district. Barack Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called Katrina the best thing that ever happened to education in New Orleans. Duncan used to run the Chicago Public Schools, which he ravaged, succeeding Paul Vallas, both of them from the mayoral staff of Chicago's Richard M. Daley. Vallas went on to wreck and privatize a large portion of Philadelphia's public schools, among other places, and is touted by Georgia elites as the favorite to head the OSD, if it passes in November. Privatizing public education is after all, a bipartisan project.
While handfuls of mid-level Democrat office holders, the teachers union and some preachers are wringing their hands over the OSD, and doing their own lobbying, none of Georgia's numerous and glittering black political class have the guts, the work ethic or the faith in their own constituents to launch the broad-based campaign of public education it will take to defeat OSD at the polls in November. As with every charter school ballot measure, several millions will be spent by parties known and unknown on deceptive ad campaigns in the 30 or 60 days preceding the election, and so many leading black Democrats will be in bed with Republicans that the state's largely black run Democratic party is expected to stand aside and allow whatever will happen to happen.
The Georgia Green Party, of which I'm the co-chair, is the only political party in Georgia that doesn't want to allow Georgia's schools to go the way of New Orleans or Detroit. Our presidential candidate Jill Stein is a fervent supporter of the Opt-Out Movement, which encourages and empowers teachers and parents to exercise their rights to opt out of the standardized testing which takes the place of actual classroom instruction and which provides the excuses for firing dedicated, experienced teachers, for closing public schools and replacing them with profitable charter schools.
Georgia's governor aims to turn the state's schools into those of New Orleans, whose so-called “Recovery School District” is a dismal failure for families, students, parents, teachers and communities, but a great thing for real estate speculators, gentrifiers, testing companies, cronies and contractors of all kinds. The difference of course is that New Orleans needed a hurricane and lots of man-made infrastructure negligence to create its opportunity to privatize education wholesale. Perhaps a better example is Detroit, where white Republican state officials conspired with local black Democrats to do the same thing without a hurricane.
The engineered crisis of public education intended to justify privatization exposes some new potential allies for black public school parents and communities in Georgia. Plenty of white constituencies which often vote Republican are also outraged at the notion that the governor should create and control schools in their neighborhoods funded with the tax dollars that now go to public schools whose officials they elect. While their schools are not on the governor's target list for immediate closure and replacement with absolutely unaccountable charter schools, these folks are plenty smart enough to know they're next. Right now, these white constituencies are the backbone of the Opt Out movement in Georgia.
But as the message gets out in black communities across the state, we expect that movement will be growing new arms and legs, new brains and hearts, new resolve and new power. If white Georgia parents can stand up to the federal Department of Education and the Republican governor, black parents can get out from under the leadership of Democratic preachers and politicians in the pocket of the charter school sugar daddies too. The fact is that most of our black political leadership, whether in Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Jacksonville, Philly, or Los Angeles are either solidly or silently behind the same privatizers as white Republicans who run Georgia's state house. It's a bipartisan thing.
On Monday, June 27, we'll be at Atlanta's First Iconium Baptist Church from 6:30 to 8:30 PM, teaching to and learning from each other about what's happened already, what's planned and how to stop it. First Iconium Baptist Church is at 542 Moreland Ave SE, just off the Moreland Avenue exit of Interstate 20.
We'll be kicking off the campaign to educate more of Georgia about how and why parents should exercise their right to refuse the destructive testing of our children.
We'll learn how and why one in five new York parents are refusing these tests, and how parents and teachers in Chicago, Seattle and other places are resisting “test-and-punish,” Common Core, and privatization.
We'll examine the bipartisan bid to turn Georgia's public schools into New Orleans or Detroit's – publicly funded but privately run by unaccountable cronies of both parties bent on profit and privatization instead of education. If you're in or near Atlanta that night, do join us.
We can stop this, and we can start something new. The power belongs to the people. But only if we can understand it and take it. For more information, you can email me at [email protected].
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and co-chair of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA, and his email address is above.