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Defend public education from ‘disaster capitalism’

Published Mar 4, 2010 9:10 PM

Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) issued the following statement in solidarity with the March 4 national day of action in defense of education.

On Thursday, March 4, students, educators and community activists across the country will take to the streets in defense of public education. Students will also be demanding the cancellation of student debt and the right to public higher education.

This mobilization on March 4 will be the first nationwide mobilization since the capitalist crisis began.

8.4 million jobs have been bled by the capitalist crisis. More than 6 million people have been jobless for more than six months. Youth unemployment, for young people between 16 and 24, is at an all-time high. Millions of homes have been foreclosed on and the rolls of the impoverished continue to grow.

And of course Indigenous, Black, and Latino people are hit the hardest, because of the particular history of the U.S., where race and class are almost synonymous.

The budget crisis is the newest tornado from the cyclonic capitalist crisis. Forty-three states plus the District of Columbia have cut their budgets. It is expected that, for fiscal year 2011, the total deficit for states will be $180 billion, and that the budget crisis, which is expected to last until 2014, could lead to the loss of another 900,000 jobs.

Thirty-six states have cut higher education and 27 states, including the District of Columbia, have cut K-12 spending. These education cuts have led to an increase in tuition, layoffs and furloughs, cuts in programs and expanding class sizes. This will only get worse as state governments plan for new rounds of cuts with proposals for fiscal year 2011.

Along with the crisis in the states’ budgets, there is the crisis in the federal budget. The Obama administration has already announced a spending freeze on everything but the military.

Another specter haunts, though — one that cannot be tied necessarily to the budgets but definitely to the capitalist system — and that is the race to privatize public education. Bourgeois economist Milton Friedman, who died in 2006 and was a proponent of vouchers — which is all but a deceased argument — had been proposing privatizing public education for many years.

In a 1995 article for the Washington Post he laid the necessity for the privatization of the public school system on the changing global reality, that the technological revolution and the political climate necessitated the push for a “private for-profit industry.”

Though the argument for a voucher system is no longer around, since the 1990s there has been an increase in privatizing the public school system through charterization.

Charter schools are being used as the answer to a crumbling public school system. Thousands of charter schools operate around the country and wealthy forces, such as the Walton family and Bill Gates, are behind the movement.

Charter schools receive public monies and can receive private donations as well and a charter can be gotten by a community group, foundation, NGO or a group of individuals. They can operate outside of the public school system and can opt not to be overseen by the local school board.

These schools can be highly selective. They don’t have to provide special education services or English as a Second Language. Around the country they have been pushed into the same space as public schools and have ultimately pushed the public schools out, which is happening throughout the New York City area, especially in Harlem.

Charters also effectively bust teachers’ unions and on the average pay educators significantly less.

Naomi Klein, in her book “The Shock Doctrine,” exposes how disasters are used by capitalists to gain super profits on the backs of the suffering, using the disaster as the perfect opportunity to sweep in.

She uses the case of New Orleans as an example, which was the final project of Milton Friedman, who wrote about the state of New Orleans school system. Its conditions were exacerbated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Klein quotes an article Friedman wrote for the Wall Street Journal months after Katrina struck: “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity.”

The above is a perfect example of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”

There need be no other tag affixed to it, though. It is simply capitalism. Some of the most right-wing foundations, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Bradley Foundation — which poured millions into a campaign to dismantle welfare during the Clinton administration — champion privatizing the public school system.

Billions of dollars are spent on public education and the bankers and financial institutions salivate to get their hands on it.

Jonathan Kozol, in an article titled the “Big Enchilada,” writes about reading a stock market prospectus. “A group of analysts at an investment banking firm known as Montgomery Securities described the financial benefits to be derived from privatizing our public schools. ‘The education industry,’ according to these analysts, ‘represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control’ that ‘have either voluntarily opened’ or, they note in pointed terms, have ‘been forced’ to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, ‘the education industry represents the largest market opportunity’ since health care services were privatized during the 1970s.

“Referring to private education companies as ‘EMOs’ (Education Management Organizations), they note that college education also offers some ‘attractive investment returns’ for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools. ‘The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers,’ which, they emphasize, ‘are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers.’ From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, ‘the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada.’”

Privatization has never made anything better. The capitalist system exists to make profit off exploitation and the products produced under capitalism are only for those who can afford them. The privatization of public schools will not only threaten the livelihood of education workers but of students and will resegregate the public school system and further indoctrinate young people for certain positions in life and with the most backward beliefs.

To fix the public school system, the monies used to service debt to the banks, to bail out the banks and that go to wage imperialist war and plunder and for prisons has to be used for social needs.

Young people around the world deserve new schools, the best equipment and the best opportunities and that can only be guaranteed under a new system, one without the profit motive.

All out for March 4! All power to workers and students!