The Corporate State Takeover of Georgia Public Schools
Education “reform” is running rampant throughout the country and especially in Georgia. Yes, the public education system needs improvement, but these “reforms” are designed to destroy public education. We must demand national funding to guarantee equal, quality education for every child. Either education will be the profit making private property of the corporations, or it will serve the public interests of the people.
The capitalists’ goal is to maximize profit. Thus, the privatization of the public school system is not just a policy, but it is a necessity to them. The value of commodities has been lowered because the value of labor has decreased, due to the glut of commodities on the market produced by robots. Thus the capitalists must find new avenues of profit making. For the corporate world, public education and all public resources are the last frontier to expropriate every last morsel of value and profit.
The State at every level has merged with the corporations to restructure society to benefit corporations. Within the field of education, this destruction generates school closures, high stakes testing, a student debt crisis and attacks on public education employees’ wages, working conditions and pensions. The attacks on public education in the minority communities are the opening wedge for the attack on the entire class. Capitalism will not educate those it cannot employ.
In Georgia, Republican Governor Nathan Deal has proposed the Opportunity School District Bill (OSD), which would close 141 schools in Georgia that have scored below 60 in the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). First passed as an Act requiring an amendment to the state constitution, it will be voted up or down in a referendum on November 8.
The “Opportunity School District” should really be called the “School Takeover” Act. It is a clear example of the merger of the State and corporations and is an assault on democracy. It was the brainstorm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), led by the Koch Brothers and others in the corporate world, in order to privatize public education. Republican Governors have implemented this policy in Michigan, Tennessee and Louisiana. In all three states the takeovers remain in place even though “children have seen negligible improvement – or even dramatic setbacks – in their educational performance,” according to the conclusion from the Center for Popular Democracy.
The OSD should be compared with the Emergency Manager law in Michigan. The people of Georgia will “vote on the referendum,” which makes it slightly different than the total lack of bourgeois democracy that forced emergency managers on the people of Michigan. However, both allow no input by those most affected. Everything is controlled from the top. The Emergency Manager in Flint, Michigan decided to switch the city water source to the Flint River, allowing contaminated water to flow into Flint residents’ water taps via corroded pipes, putting lead and other toxins into the people’s drinking water. Government officials and the governor were aware of the situation and did nothing to prevent it. Thousands of children now suffer with blood diseases and other health problems, including brain damage.
Governor Deal’s proposal to create the OSD was passed by the state legislature in March, 2015. The constitutional amendment will be voted upon in a ballot initiative in November of this year. If approved by the voters, it will be effective for the 2017-2018 school years. It will be a campaign well funded by the corporate world. If enacted, the children of Georgia, like the children of Flint, Michigan will be negatively affected for decades to come.
The ballot initiative is worded in such a manner that it is basically a “trick” question. The following question will be on the ballot: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the State to intervene in chronically failing public schools, in order to improve student performance?” Who cannot agree with this as worded? All parents want the best education for their children.
Changing the Georgia Constitution allows unfiltered authority to the Governor’s office. Most people don’t understand what the constitutional amendment would really mean. The state determines the definition of “failing,” and the state would take over any school that it deems failing. The state’s school superintendent can shut down any school and create a “conversion charter school.” Teachers and parents would not have any input in the conversion. The state can take over local funds to run the schools and contract out management services to “for profit” corporations.
History of Education in the South
Historically in the South, education was limited to the children of the ruling class. Before the Civil War, there was no public education in the South. It was illegal for a slave to be educated. The children of the white poor also received no education. Public education was first established under the Reconstruction governments. The Supreme Court case of Plessy vs.. Ferguson (1896) upheld segregation in schools, as long as Blacks and whites had parity in the quality of education (“separate but equal” principle). However, few Black students received equal education. They suffered for decades from inadequate funding, outmoded or dilapidated facilities, and deficient textbooks. High schools became available to whites (and some Blacks ) in the cities after 1900, but few rural southerners, Black or white went beyond the 8th grade until after 1945.
During industrialization in this country, public schools were set up to train factory workers. Large classrooms, regimentation, obedience to authority, and rote learning prepared the young workers for the assembly line, the foreman, and how to take orders from above authority. Schools in this country have never been run for the interests of the children of the working class. The majority of Americans have never controlled the schools, or participated as real owners of a system that determines the life opportunities for their children. The purpose of school in America is to provide the kind of labor force needed for the production of goods and the creation of profits.
Today, schools that African American and poor white students attend, lack funding and resources due to the inequality of the way schools are funded. Higher performing schools are located in the wealthier school districts where the tax base is larger, collecting more funding.
Over the last decade, Governor Deal and the state legislators reduced the education budget by $8 billion. Some of the rural areas in the state cut their school year to 140 days. How can these students receive a quality education? This year the governor has proposed an education budget of $8.49 billion, still 470 million dollars short of what’s needed.
Today marks the age of electronic production, where the robot replaces the worker. There is no need to educate someone the capitalists do not need. This is the basis of the school takeovers by the state of Georgia. It is part of the ongoing destruction of public education. More than one in four Georgia children, or 27 percent, live in poverty. The Georgia education system ranks 32nd overall in the nation. And Georgia, Nevada and New Mexico are at the bottom with the highest school dropout rates.
Presently, there are examples of veteran teachers, many of whom are Black, being laid off and replaced by “Teach for America” candidates. School systems around the country are hiring less experienced teachers to replace veteran educators so they can pay less to a teacher right out of college with no experience.
New Orleans School System – a Model for Georgia’s Opportunity School District
When Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans had 4, 600 teachers – nearly 60 percent of them Black women. Those numbers have plummeted since the storm. The state in Louisiana took over the schools in New Orleans after Katrina and converted the whole system to charter schools. Governor Deal and a hand-selected group of Georgia legislators visited New Orleans to see how the city took over as many as 100 public schools and created a state-run district. He used this example as a model for the state takeover of public schools in Georgia.
The evaluations of teachers in Georgia were geared to the scores of children. “Pay for Performance,” caused teachers undue anxiety and fear for their jobs, if children didn’t perform high enough on the test. The “Opportunity School District,” is far from being an opportunity offered to all students. In this bill there is no intention of offering vocational technical schools to students, or any state funding for those students with special needs.
Education of, by and for the People
The actual goal of the “Opportunity School District” is to privatize public education by creating more “for profit” charter schools. Many parents and the education organizations see through the façade and are against this initiative. A coalition of organizations has been formed to campaign to educate voters to defeat the OSD initiative.
Meria Carstarphen, the Superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools, has proposed closing schools and turning others over to charter school groups in an attempt to keep Atlanta schools out of state control, if voters approve of the governor’s plan. If the superintendent follows through with this, as many as 400 district jobs could be affected. Those fired would have to reapply for their jobs.
The “Opportunity School District” is a misnomer and a statement that was created to mislead the public. Instead, it should be called the “State Takeover of Public Schools.” It must be defeated. However, it is only the beginning of a longer fight for a quality education for all. Nationalization of education is a battleground where the interests and program of the class can be fought out. We must demand national funding to guarantee equal, quality education for every child. Either education will be the profit making private property of the corporations, or it will serve the public interests of the people. This is what is at stake in Georgia and the nation.
May/June 2016 Vol26.Ed3
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Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011