Call me a defiant “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” parent of a Florida public school student. And I’m looking for a few — a few million — good men and women to join me in battle.
We’re decades into a war waged by shadowy business interests and religious groups, working through “cooperative” (co-opted) legislators and governors. They “won” the latest skirmish after the Republican Party of Florida (and some Blue Dog Democrats) engineered passage of an unpopular voucher expansion bill in the final minutes of the final day of the 2014 legislative session.
This is another attack in a very well-funded, well-organized and well-executed campaign. That’s why it succeeds so often. The goal is to gradually undermine most of the state’s public schools and ultimately privatize them.
For all of us who believe tax dollars earmarked for education should be almost entirely dedicated to improvingpublic schools, the time has come to implement our own new strategy for success.
We need to reach out and join forces in our local communities statewide, sharing information, brainstorming, consensus-reaching and coalition-building.
We need everybody to know that vouchers came along in the 19th century with the sole purpose of allowing families in rural areas far from a public school to use their kids’ taxpayer-funded allotment to attend a private school nearby.
Than came conservative Republican economist Milton Friedman in the 1950s, suggesting that transplanting kids and tax dollars from public to private schools would encourage “competition” and make all schools better.
That theory remained mostly theoretical until it went on steroids in the early 2000s, when George W. Bush was president, and brother Jeb was Florida governor. That’s when a combination of religious special interests, corporate profit-seekers and “cooperative” Republicans turned up the heat on public schools.
Before you knew it, there was a new approach to “grading” schools and students. Testing became big business…especially for another Bush brother, Neil, who had an “educational software” company called Ignite! Learning. Next thing you know, we had “No Child Left Behind,” teachers “teaching to the test,” “failing” schools…and the Bush family making millions off it all.
At the very same time public schools were being thrown into turmoil, voucher legislation was advanced for parents and children looking to escape the turmoil.
Interesting timing, huh?
Two types of students have been most targeted for vouchers. First, the best and brightest, kids whose families mostly couldn’t afford private school — and whose departure from public school made the school’s grade and funding drop further.
Then, to build popular support for privatization, a far larger group of kids was targeted — children of poor families, often in troubled inner-city schools. Most poor parents told by privatizers they have a Choice to put their kidinto a private school…don’t ask questions. Except, “Where do we sign?”
So, the most underfunded, underperforming schools lose more funding, underperform further, and often close. But private, for-profit “charter” schools are lined up waiting to take their place.
How about that?
Well, that and the rest of the privatization conspiracy will leave us with a two-tiered education system: the top tier profit-driven and unduly unaccountable; the bottom tier…don’t ask.
Whether you’re a conservative, liberal, moderate, Republican, Democrat, independent, it’s time to pitch in to save our public education system before it’s too late.
It’s time to forget the labels that divide us, and stake out the common ground that unites us, in common cause: Doing what it takes to defeat the forces battling to privatize our public schools.
Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses.