The idea that public education is a public good is strongly grounded in democratic goals. National educational policies and budgets are dedicated to build educational systems that promote education for all students. These systems enable individuals from lower social classes to achieve academic success according to their capacities rather than an inherited socio-economic status. A laudable ideal that is internationally recognized and respected as made evident by the UN’s MDG2 (achieve universal primary education).
Notwithstanding the almost universal appreciation for the benefits of public education, class-based opportunities and struggling national economies are challenging how we live public education. These challenges have and continue to make room for the growth of privatization in public education systems that compromise the ideal of equitable access.
Recently (June 18th, 2011 issue), the Economist published “Public Good, Public Cuts.” The article on the school funding issues in the US called into question America’s conviction for public education as a public good. It focused on the failures of public spending to provide public education. For example:
- In Texas, they expect $4 billion in cuts for schools over the next two years.
- In Los Angeles, the teacher’s union voted to cut their salaries rather than lose jobs.
The impact is serious and affects the provision of a minimum standard of schooling – a constitutional right. In fact, in New Jersey, a court declared that 36% of state schools are inadequately funded. A situation that requires rectification as a matter of a citizen’s right.
In response to the reality of budget limitations, public school leaders are making decisions that may conflict with their ideals about public education as a public good. For example, in addition to the usual fundraising for school trips and supplies, some schools have started to charge students for certain classes and activities. As the fiscal constraints tighten, school management face decisions that require serious innovative thinking. To date, the “innovations” tend to be limited to deciding which services can be considered outside the minimum standard to justify charging parents/guardians.
This new era seems to be inviting a greater divide between school children whose parents/guardians are able to finance their public education and those who are not!
It has long been accepted that there is a degree of inequity embedded in the public system. A neighborhood’s tax bracket decidedly influences the resources in a school. Since richer parents tend to live in these neighborhoods, their kids go to schools with better resources. Moreover, parents with higher incomes (living in these neighborhoods) presumably have the budget to dedicate to the “extra” costs of “public” schools. But as privatization covertly usurps public access in the public system, it is time to overtly consider the impact of privatizing education on societal development.
In other words, what is our conviction to public education for all? And how does privatization really affect this ideal?