Privatization of Public Education

In the United States, we have prided ourselves for generations on a system of public education that has been envied by nations all over the world.  Public schools are publicly funded, universally available, and accountable to the public. Today there are myriad attacks on the public in public education. The questions we must ask when private alternatives are promoted are whether the market has a greater interest in serving the poorest and most vulnerable children and what all children and our society have to lose or gain if we privatize all or part of the vast institution of public education.  We in the churches have advocated for a long, long time to make public schools more equitable.  Because they are public institutions, we have been able to do that.  There are also serious concerns about the loss of public purpose and public control. When schools are privatized, what is the government’s moral and fiscal responsibility to the students remaining in the neighborhood public shcools?  What should the federal government and state governments do to improve the regulation of charter schools?

Our UCC Web Pages on the Privatization of Public Education

General Synod Policy

The UCC’s General Synod has recognized that allocation of scarce public dollars is a primary concern. Unless significant additional tax funds can be generated, schools which are publicly funded but privately operated drain funding from the public school districts that are expected to continue to provide the full range of services for children, including services for students like those with special needs and English language learners, who require expensive special services.  General Synod 15 declared, “We defend the right of parents to choose alternative, private, religious, or independent schools, but continue to declare that those schools should be funded by private sources of income.” In a Resolution for the Common Good, General Synod 25 affirmed “the role of public institutions paid for by taxes for ensuring essential services and protecting the good of the wider community.”  Today some privatized schools are not-for profit, but many are making a profit for owners or shareholders from public tax dollars. 

2013 Annual Message on Public Education Addresses Privatization

Justice & Witness Ministries creates a resource to comment from the point of view of the church on the conditions in public schools and public school reform. In years past, we have mailed the resource to all churches; these days we publish our resources on-line only. Here is the JWM 2013 Message on Public Education:The Public Purpose of Public Education. And here are the UCC’s 2013 succinct, updated talking points to help faithful advocates reflect on and speak to what needs to happen today in public school reform.

Key Articles

May 23, 2013:  Ongoing inequality in Pennsylvania school funding, debates about union contracts, and discussions of privatization wreck havoc on the public schools in Philadelphia: Who’s Still Killing Philly Schools? The Status Quo is Now State Control and Permanent Crisis.

May 20, 2013: Nicholas Lemann, writing for the New Republic, tells How Michelle Rhee Misled Education Reform.  A very important analysis.

April 10, 2013: Helen Ladd, professor of public policy at Duke University defines The Perils of a ‘Private’ Vision for North Carolina Schools.

March 7, 2013: Peter Montgomery of at Right Wing Watch, People for the American Way, explores growing move toward vouchers: Right-Wing Voucher Push Undermines Public Education & Constitution.

February 15, 2013: Here is a ground breaking expose from Reuters on use of selection screens in a number of charter schools in locations across the United States. A must read for those concerned that public school reform today seems aimed at those with high motivation or more advanced skills and fails to serve the most vulnerable children.