May 21, 2021

Carol Burris: The movement to privatize public schools marches on during coronavirus pandemic

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Never let a crisis go to waste. In a guest post at Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog, NPE president Carol Burris shows how privatizers are scapegoating unions and districts as part of their attempt to privatize pub lic schools.

Legislatures in 35 states have proposed bills to enact or expand voucher programs or charter schools. A few have passed; others have failed. Still others are sitting on governors’ desks or are stalled in the state’s House or Senate. Several are obvious attempts to please right-wing donors with no chance of moving out of committee. So far, eight states have enacted one or more bills.

A flurry of proposed school privatization legislation appearing on state dockets has been the pattern for several years. What is different this year is their success, albeit limited. In prior years, few, if any, reached the finish line. So what is different about 2021?

Paul Petersen, a longtime cheerleader for market-based school reforms, who is a government professor at Harvard University and editor of the pro-school choice journal Education Next, blamed unions and school boards.

“After aggressive unions and bewildered school boards shut down schools for a year, the choice bandwagon has begun to roll,” he opined in the Wall Street Journal. Jeanne Allen of the nonprofit Center for Education Reform, who has never been shy in her hostility toward unions and traditional public schools, echoes the same claim.

But if their agenda-driven theory were true, we would expect to see the greatest successes in passing legislation in those states with the fewest schools open for in-person instruction. Yet no legislation has come up in California, Hawaii or Maryland — states with the smallest proportion of open schools.

Instead, it appears that the opposite is true — red states with a high rate of open schools are where bills have been passed.

Burris goes on to provide some specific state-by-state examples. Read the full piece here.

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