“Far-Right Reformers” Is an Oxymoron, a Euphemism for Reframing a Public Service as a Source of Private Profit

The Far Right’s favorite euphemism is “reform.”

Their notion of “reform” is the equivalent of “reforming” a criminal by executing him. Or since many on the Far Right (Ted Nugent, for certain) would applaud that analogy, it is the equivalent of running a chainsaw through the base of a shade tree in order to “save” it. Or, since many on the Far Right see nothing in a tree but lumber, I should probably simply give up on trying to find analogies and turn to examples.

They want to “reform” Social Security by making it a defined contribution program, rather than a defined benefit program—while, not coincidentally, putting trillions of dollars into the hands of the portfolio managers who will handle the retirement accounts.

They want to “reform” public and private pensions by simply eliminating the legal obligations to meet the commitments that they have contractually made to provide them.

They want to “reform” Medicare” by “allowing” seniors to try to find health insurance on their own and by providing a voucher that will cover less than half of the cost—all on their assurance that “market pressures” will prevent those costs from rising rapidly or arbitrarily.

And they want to “reform” public education by making it private.

Yo illustrate the benefits of privatization the self-appointed and mutually anointing “reformers” of public education naturally like to cite high-performing charter schools.

What they almost never point out is that the high-performing charters are not at all typical. First, they are almost always run by non-profit foundations whose primary purpose is education, not profits. Second, if you isolate the actual instructional costs per student, they are usually fairly expensive because a very large percentage of their revenues are actually allocated to instruction and students receive very intensive, hands-on educations, enhanced by the best technology and digital materials available.

In contrast to the high-performing charter schools, most charter schools are operated by for-profit corporations, whose skewed sense of the essence of what it means to provide a quality education is reflected in the fact that their school administrators (executives) earn two-and-a-half to three times what public school administrators earn (so two-and-a-half to three times already bloated salaries) and their teachers earn one-third to even one-half less than what public school teachers earn.

To the surprise of no one who is not deluded by ideology, teachers’ performance does not improve in inverse proportion to their compensation—any more than financial planners’ or any other category of workers’ performance would improve under that financial model.

And to the surprise of no one who is actually paying attention, the students in these schools aren’t doing any better than, and are often doing significantly worse than, their public-school counterparts on the standardized tests relentlessly promoted by the “reformers.”

But those failures aren’t spoken or written about as often or as pointedly as those of their public school counterparts. Messaging prevails over reality.

No one believes that “throwing more money at a problem” is typically a viable solution, in itself, to most problems. But the same people who most like to use that phrase in their condemnations of public education have not just been putting the brakes on increases in spending on the public schools. Rather, they have been relentlessly slashing that spending, gutting the financial resources necessary to operate at even a minimal level.

Several decades ago, in Michigan and Pennsylvania, lawmakers sought to insure equitable funding of all public schools, regardless of the differences in the tax bases of individual districts, and therefore shifted the primary funding sources for the schools from local property tax revenues to state funding, designating certain taxes as the revenue sources for the state subsidies to the school districts. Over the last decade and a half, the increasingly conservative legislatures in both states have steadily reduced the funding to the public schools, in good economic times and bad. And when large urban districts, most notably those in Detroit and Philadelphia, have faced very predictably ballooning deficits exacerbated by the Great Recession, those ideologically driven legislators most responsible for those deficits have slashed the funding even more dramatically and, then, with blatant hypocrisy–with what used to be called tremendous gall–have blamed the district administrators and school boards for “mismanagement.”

Please don’t rush to point out how inefficient and even corrupt some school districts have become, because if inefficiency and corruption were the primary measure for funding, then the corporate allocations—the disbursements to the “industrial” part of the “Military-industrial complex”– in the military budget, which constitutes the bulk of the defense budget, would have to be slashed to the bone. And, I am quite sure that if military personnel were unionized, personnel costs would be targeted for reduction instead of the corporate spending. Indeed, personnel costs are the first thing that is cut even now.

This shifting of blame is all very comparable to McDonald’s responding to complaints that it is not paying its employees a “living wage” by suggesting that the problem is actually that those employees don’t know how to budget their money and providing them with singularly unhelpful instructional videos on how to stretch their insufficient paychecks (first point of advice, to get a second job), instead of providing them with any wage increases.

But the main difference, of course, is that McDonald’s employees are responsible for preparing Big Macs and fries, whereas our schools are responsible for preparing our children for their future lives.

6 thoughts on ““Far-Right Reformers” Is an Oxymoron, a Euphemism for Reframing a Public Service as a Source of Private Profit

  1. I found this expose amusing. It actually brightened my day as I sit here in my ivory tower overlooking a beautiful public higher education campus. I don’t have time to go through your article point by point so I will simply comment on your last example, McDonald’s wages. First, you may be surprised that I agree with you that working at McDonalds or Wal-Mart or a host of other places does not support an individual let alone a family. I agree that employees should earn a “living wage” which will vary by geography; many of these workers are what I call the working poor. So let’s say that on average someone with a family of four people should at least earn $60,000, quite a bit higher than McDonald’s wage right. Great! I once had someone tell me that the economy would be better if the living wage was increased. I agree. Let’s make it $$25.00 per hour. Here is the catch. How much are willing to pay for McDonalds Big Mack and fries. Don’t eat there, ok how about a glass of wine, or an apple. Certainly apple pickers don’t make a “living wage” now so let’s give them the same $25.00 or $30.00 per hour.

    • This may be the most inscrutable comment that I have ever received in response to one of my posts. It is certainly very oddly focused. I mention the wages that MacDonald’s pays its employees only at the very end of the post and even there the point is to make an analogy to the company’s response to the issue, not really the issue itself.

      But, I’ll attempt a response to what you have written since it seems intended to provoke a response.

      Although I am sure that, under the current franchising model, some owners of fast-food franchises would find it economically challenging to pay a higher wage, the arrangements between the franchise owners and the corporation could certainly be adjusted to take the need to pay higher wages into account–especially when just one of those corporations, McDonald’s, has announced for the second quarter a net income of $1.4 billion on gross revenues of nearly $7 billion. So it’s not just that wages ought to be increased; rather, it’s that the business model ought to be adjusted to allow at least for something closer to a “living wage.”

      The argument about what constitutes such a wage is frivolous if it is merely a device for shrugging off the current circumstances in which workers are not receiving anything close to a “living wage.” If you’re going to speculate on the economic impact of $25/hour wages for workers who are now making little more than minimum wage (if even that, for I am guessing that most agricultural workers make significantly less, especially if they are migrant workers), you might just as well ask what would result from their making $1,000/hour.

      The sad truth is that a raise of several dollars an hour would make a big difference to many of these workers–and I have seen no evidence that such a raise would necessarily make a Big Mac or a Happy Meal (or an apple or a glass of wine) prohibitively expensive. In fact, at most fast-food restaurants, I believe that wages account for about 10% of the expected expenses. So even a 25% raise would increase the business’ overall expenses by only 2.5%. And again, I think that this is a problem with the corporate model, not something to be addressed on a franchise-by franchise basis.

      Coincidentally, if ironically, the percentage of the total business expenses represented by fast-food workers’ wages is actually fairly close to the percentage of the institutional budget devoted to the wages of tenured faculty at an average mid-sized public university and about three or four times the percentage of those budgets typically allocated for adjunct faculty wages. I believe that total faculty compensation at such institutions constitutes between 20% and 25% of the institutional budgets, with 50% to 60% going to tenured faculty and most of the rest going to full-time contingent faculty. It is a rare institution at which adjunct or part-time faculty compensation accounts for more than 5% of the institutional budget. This is one salient indication of the increasing corporatization of our public colleges and universities, and it demonstrates, in terms of the compensation of adjunct faculty, that the “ivory tower” is exploiting contingent workers as unconscionably as many corporations, and perhaps more so than many. That seems disgraceful, to me. But I have recently addressed that issue in a lengthy post on the Adjunct Faculty Association’s abbreviated strike at Nassau Community College; so I won’t repeat it here.

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