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Wendy Lecker: The War on Public Schools and the Public Good

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Like Jan Resseger, Wendy Lecker paid tribute to the political philosopher Benjamin Barber. She acknowledged his work on behalf of democracy and the public good, which is currently under attack by a bipartisan coalition of corporate reformers.

She writes:

Political theorist Benjamin Barber, who died April 24, wrote about the importance of education as a public good. “Education not only speaks to the public, it is the means by which a public is forged.”

As he noted, education transforms individuals into responsible community members, first in their classrooms and ultimately in our democracy. Local school districts are also the basic units of democratic government. 

Michigan professor Marina Whitman recently noted that the essence of a public good is that it is non-excludable; i.e. all can partake, and non-rivalrous; i.e. giving one person the good does not diminish its availability to another. 

Some school reforms strengthen education as a public good; such as school finance reform, which seeks to ensure that all children have adequate educational resources. 
Unfortunately, the reforms pushed in the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations attack education as a public good. For example, choice — charters and vouchers — is a favorite policy of all three administrations. Choice operates on the excludable premise of “saving a few.”

In operation, choice makes education rivalrous. As a New York appellate court observed, diverting funds from public schools to charters ‘benefit a select few at the expense of the ‘common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated….’” 

Across this country, public money is diverted from public schools to charters with no consideration of need, quality or the impact on the majority of public school students. The result is invariably the creation of exclusive schools, out of the reach of voter oversight, at the expense of public schools that serve everyone. 

Charter advocates claimed charters would be superior without the constraints faced by local districts. However, after more than 20 years, charters are no better than public schools.

Moreover, they leave public schools without resources to serve the most vulnerable and communities disenfranchised by unelected school boards.  
As Barber predicted, “What begins as an assault on bureaucratic rigidity becomes an assault on government and all things public … (destroying) a people’s right to govern themselves publicly … (and) to establish the conditions for the development of public citizens.” Reforms that gut public education attack democracy.

You will enjoy reading the full article, which appeared in the Stamford Advocate. Lecker goes into detail about the ways that charter schools are draining resources from public schools and causing fiscal distress to schools that accept all students.

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