[Susan notes: This letter shows that Ontario, Canada is headed the same way as US, looking to vulture philanthropy to rescue its public schools. At least someone is protesting.]
Published in Barrie Examiner (Ontario, Canada)
(Re: 'Central's new pitch, Prominent businessman unveils grand vision for school' in the Jan. 27 edition of the Examiner)
Every day we hear of more partnerships between government services and the private sector. It seems the global economic crisis triggered by the United States banking fiasco has created an atmosphere in which the reduction of funding to government services is seen to be natural.
Public assets must be hurriedly sold off wherever possible, we are told, to balance budgets, lower taxes and attract international corporations with jobs. Those more essential public services which we are not ready just yet to liquidate can be rescued by private sector partners with the business smarts to make them economically efficient.
This has already taken place to such an extent that it isn't always clear whether our tax dollars are going to support local public services or the profits of global corporations that bid on the contracts.
Is Highway 407 public or private? Who owns it? Who profits from it? Are we paying less tax to Ontario, but more toll to the Spanish company that runs it?
Similar questions now need to be asked about public education as the accommodation review committee (ARC) considers partnerships with businesses to make Barrie Central Collegiate economically viable.
In response to the various crises in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, which alternate between under-funding, under-performance on tests, and under-enrolment, inner city schools are under the constant threat of being closed.
Partnerships have arisen to rescue the public education system in the form of charter schools and academies, which the public subsidizes and the private sector profits from.
The movement has been largely driven by the philanthropy of billionaires such as Bill Gates, who was recently in Toronto to promote a pro-charter school movie called Waiting for Superman.
In her recent best seller, The Death and Life of the Great American Education System, Diane Ravitch, the former U.S. assistant secretary of education, questions the logic of those she dubs the 'Billionaire Boys Club', headed by Gates. She suggests that education should not be run like a business any more than fire or police departments.
As we look at Mayor Jeff Lehman's well-intentioned efforts to save Barrie Central Collegiate through corporate partnerships, we should at least be aware that, once we have begun to accept the seemingly natural logic of cutting and partnering, then it will not be long before our schools are headed for more cutting and more partnering, and for the same large scale privatization that has already been seen in the U.S. and U.K.
While voters may be encouraged to see only the short-term gains of saving one school, they need to be reminded that another avenue to saving schools would be to vote for representatives who promise to protect the public system without partnerships, that is, to keep it public.
If fairly distributed reductions to all schools need to be made, that is one thing. If the cuts create school closures to be followed by philanthropy or entrepreneurship, then that is quite another. It sets a dangerous precedent.
As the funding starts to roll in from external sponsors, power will erode from elected school board officials and be gathered up by corporations like Microsoft, Edison Learning Inc., and Green Dot Public Schools, with leaders whom we didn't elect, who may never have set foot in a public school, or our country for that matter, and who would love nothing more than to see all schools run just like the 407.
Gord Bambrick Barrie