Let’s be blunt: There has never been anything behind “let the market do it” privatization schemes for education beyond a desire to tap into the stream of tax dollars going into education. If the people pushing for-profit colleges and charter schools really believed in the myths of the free market that they promote, they would not be grasping so for government funds. They would be asking that taxes be lowered on everyone so that “real market forces” could be at work (when they are for lower taxes, we see, it is only for themselves). Instead, they make their fortunes off of money that comes to them from government through processes they have either created or that they take advantage of, processes that lack any accountability. They have been ripping us all off by allowing government to collect the money and then, in the name of “privatization,” give it to them.
Of course, “government contractors” have been claiming they can do jobs better and more cheaply than government workers for decades, if not centuries. In the long run, it generally turns out that they can’t, but the contractors always get extremely rich in the meantime. They claim to be capitalists, but they never have competed fairly in a free-market system, relying on lobbying and good-old-boy networks rather than real competition. John Deasy, superintendent of Los Angeles schools, turned out to be an easy target for Pearson and Apple, for example. He offered them money meant for infrastructure for over-priced tablet computers and software in a process where the bidding was suspect, to say the least.
Today, the for-profit college “industry,” which exists in large part because of easy access to government-backed student loans, is beginning to fall apart. Michael MacDowell, former president of Misericordia College in Pennsylvania, tries to soften his criticism in the essay linked to here by saying it isn’t all for-profits who have problems (and by saying he has nothing against profits), but the fact remains that all of these colleges survive on easy access to government money, primarily through student loans. Fortunately, the reality of the situation is coming clear and the for-profits, who seemed so muscular so recently, are being revealed as 90-pound-weaklings on government-provided steroids.
The charter-school movement has found a different source of government funding, siphoning off money earmarked for public schools based on the number of pupils, generally, they expect to enroll. This, too, has proven a better way for charter-school operators to get rich than it has for improving education. In fact, for all of the attempts to massage the numbers in places like New Orleans and New York City, the “success” of charter schools has been minimal, at best–but very expensive. Fortunately, the reality of the situation is finally becoming obvious.
Let’s hope that we have the collective will, starting now, to roll back the for-profit colleges and charter schools, replacing them with public institutions (and the older styles of the private) of the sort that made education in the United States the envy of the world. The only thing stopping us is our own money–now in the hands of the “entrepreneurs” who have concocted these boondoggles. They buy publicity with it to convince us to allow them to continue to rob us.
Perhaps we can finally wake up to their scams.