School Privatization and America’s Housing Crisis
“Education is a human right!,” say students, teachers and parents around the country. They believe all children and adults should have access to free, high-quality education and are engaged in the struggle to make it so. They are fighting against the crisis of inadequate education funding and privatization. This crisis is increasingly intertwined with the housing crisis. Under capitalism, quality education and housing are only accessible to those who can pay for it.
Real estate developers, agents of global finance capital, increasingly dictate educational policy for private profit. The result is the rise in homelessness among school children and their families, including the inability of teachers to afford housing in their school districts. Neighborhood schools are displaced by charter schools and selective-enrollment public schools.
A Private Property Plan
A generation ago charter schools were marketed to people of color, African-Americans in particular, as the solution to reverse fifty years of separate and unequal schools. Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately run and controlled, and mostly non-union. Today, global real estate corporations have made charters a key weapon in their gentrification take-overs of entire communities, pushing out families to make way for higher profits.
School closures are a result. School closures are almost always a real estate plan. School districts regularly close public schools and supplant them with charters. These maneuvers destabilize entire districts, opening them to skyrocketing housing costs. Housing commodification goes hand in hand with school commodification.
Trump’s spending on federal charter grants has increased over 30 percent since he took office. Obama’s Department of Education gave away billions of dollars to charter corporations. Over one-quarter of this money was scammed away by “ghost charters” that never opened or opened briefly and shut down. Almost no one has gone to jail for these crimes. Students, however, are increasingly criminalized for school fights or refusing to go through metal detectors.
As new sources of private profit, the number of charter schools in the U.S. ballooned from approximately 2,000 to 7,000 between 2000 and 2016. California has the most students in charter schools: 603,000, or 10 percent of all public-school students in the state). New Orleans has the first all-charter school district in the nation. Both public housing and public schools were closed, and most were not reopened after Hurricane Katrina. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the 2nd largest school district in the country, 20 percent of the students attend charter schools, costing the district $600 million. Billionaire real estate mogul, Eli Broad is a leader of the privatization of public schools in Los Angeles and nationally.
The growth of charter schools was facilitated by laws incentivizing the conversion of public property to private property. Charter schools became a popular investment when the Clinton-era Community Tax Relief Act of 2000 provided generous tax credits for investing in underserved areas. Charter operators can combine this tax credit with other tax breaks, while also collecting interest on any money they lend. The credit allows them to double their investment in seven years. In California and other charter-dense states, charter schools are empowered to take over public schools that are “underperforming.” State law guarantees them the same financing as public schools.
So-called non-profit charter schools often create for-profit arms. These private management corporations are then paid with public funds to provide services, facilities and supplies to affiliated charter schools. Imagine Schools, a large charter operation that runs 63 charter schools enrolling more than 33,000 students in several states, turned over 40 percent of their public funding to their for-profit management company to lease property for the school.
The scams are endless and amount to criminal corporate looting, abetted by government everywhere, that results in making schools “broke on purpose.”
Oakland, California is one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. Developers there currently have 16,000 residential units under construction. Almost none of this new housing will be for low-income families. At the same time, Oakland School Board members, whose electoral campaigns were largely funded by the charter school industry and wealthy billionaires, stated they must close 24 public schools to save money. However, the National Education Policy Center found that closing schools does not save money and causes the greatest harm to the lowest income students.
Puerto Rico is an alarming example of where we are all headed. After hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, the Puerto Rican Education Secretary stated that it was a great opportunity to use the New Orleans “Katrina model” to close schools. They will be reopened as charter schools to serve new gated communities for hi-tech elites under the real estate scheme that global capitalists have for the island.
Broke on Purpose
Real estate developers make huge profits when schools are “broke on purpose,” but the social destruction is horrific. Over one million U.S. school children in 2017 were homeless; 100,000 more than in 2016 and the highest it’s ever been. Many U.S. school children are part of America’s growing number of impoverished families, who are barely hanging on.
In Chicago, the competition for a seat at one of the selective public high schools is so rough that the process has been referred to as the, “Midwest’s Hunger Games.” In the 2015-16 school year, 13,413 students applied for 3,600 freshman seats at the selective enrollments, according to the district. In the spring of 2019, only 7 Black students were admitted to the highly selective Stuyvesant High in New York City.
Many teachers cannot afford to live near the schools where they teach. Federal guidelines recommend spending no more than 30 percent of annual income on housing, but that’s impossible for teachers in expensive housing markets, such as New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Although privatizers tout charters as superior education, research finds that on average, there are no differences between the test scores of students at charter schools and non-charters. There are some high performing charter schools, but the majority of charter schools do the same or worse than public schools. Test scores are highly correlated with family and neighborhood wealth.
Decrease in Public Funding for Education
Free universal public education was created by the government because corporate industry needed literate workers for industrial manufacturing. The purpose of public schools has been to train employees to take their place in the economy. This was true until the 1970s and 1980s, when computers started to become powerful enough to be applied massively throughout industry. Today, automation via robotics, artificial intelligence and other digital technology, is replacing human labor and changing the job market forever.
Labor-replacing production, in the context of the capitalist imperative of maximum profit, is pushing more and more workers out of the economy, as their jobs are done more efficiently and cheaply by electronic technology. This process is creating a new class of permanently unemployed or underemployed workers. The ruling class, which controls the government and wealth of this country, will not pay to educate workers it no longer needs. Thus, public education funding is on the decline.
The new class is being deprived of both education and housing, which are basic human rights, things we all deserve regardless of ability to pay. Without decent jobs, the only way this new impoverished class will get its basic needs met, is if these needs are provided to all people in society. The new class has no choice but to fight for the political power to reconstruct society on a cooperative basis to achieve this.
What Education and Housing Can Be
The teacher strikes last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky and this year in Los Angeles and Oakland, brought attention to the crisis caused by decades of education cuts and the parasitic impact of charter schools. Elected officials, both Republican and Democrat, have contributed to this crisis, and the public is beginning to reject the ruling class’ narrative that teachers and their unions are the problem.
As corporations merge with the State, politicians blatantly abandon their responsibility to the public and promote the commodification of education and housing. The way forward begins by holding them accountable or replacing them. The same technology manipulated to replace and impoverish workers could be used to provide first-rate public education for all, where schools provide supportive, intellectually stimulating, learning environments. Well-funded schools could take a wholistic approach that enhances the strengths of all students, taught by well-educated and well-supported teachers.
Today, we must educate those who will guide humanity through the historic transition society now faces. As jobs continue to vanish, the old idea that the purpose of education is to get a good job is vanishing along with them. Every step taken to halt the advance of charter schools is a step toward attacking the hold that private property has on education. Every step taken to destroy the stranglehold real estate speculation has on where we live, attacks the privatization of our lives. Today’s movement for quality education is a fight against private property, which enforces inequality and impoverishment. It is a fight for high-quality schools that all students deserve. RC
September/October 2019 Vol29.Ed5
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011