Perpetual Crisis in Public Schools By Design

Story Transcript

Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Last week, Washington Post carried an alarming headline about public schools in the US. It reported that an increasing number of Oklahoma schools are open only four days a week, due to state budget cuts. As many as 20% of Oklahoma schools are now open only four days a week. As it turns out, this is only the latest in a sign of growing budget crises that’s going to hit public schools across the country. In Kansas, for example, many schools had to end the school year earlier than usual, because of a lack of funds. In Illinois, 17 school districts are suing the state for failing to fund public education adequately.

In Alaska, over 2000 classrooms don’t have a teacher. All of this comes on top of the Trump administration’s plan to cut 10 billion dollars from federal education initiatives. Joining us today to discuss all of this is Glen Ford. Glen is the Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. He’s also the author of the book titled “The Big Lie.” He joins us today from New Jersey. Thanks for joining us, Glen.

Glen Ford: Thank you for having me.

Sharmini Peries: Glen, how does the Oklahoma four day school week fit into the larger state of public education in the US?

Glen Ford: Well, you know, it’s only the focus this week. There will be other crises next week and in fact, public education has been in a continual state of fiscal crisis since the 2008 recession. That’s very interesting because we are supposed to have been in a recovery for years now, and yet we’re seeing in Oklahoma, the actuality of four day school weeks. When powerful corporate forces and others are actually calling for longer school days, longer school weeks, and even elimination of summer vacation. Something is not meshing here. We really have to conclude that there’s a deliberate policy in this post-recession period to starve the beast. That’s the term that the right wing used to use in their campaign to deny the government funds so that the welfare state would be starved out of existence. Well, it appears that to some, public education is now the beast that has to be starved.

Sharmini Peries: Now, Glen, what are the long-term consequences of all of this? I mean, we’ve been seeing school closings, overfilled classrooms, shortened school weeks, lack of textbooks, and crumbling infrastructure, teachers having to buy supplies for their classroom out of their salaries and so on and so on. What long-term effects is this going to have?

Glen Ford: Well in fact, teachers have been buying supplies for their classrooms for this entire period. A survey has shown that on average, teachers spend about $535 a year buying supplies that the public ought to be paying for. What are the consequence of starving the educational system as it now exists? The consequence will be the creation of an alternative public educational system, mainly centered around charters, and that is the purpose for starving public education. It is to create a market so that parents think there is no other choice but to go to the alternative. The Trump administration also wants to make private school vouchers part of that mix, that alternative choice.

Sharmini Peries: Now, obviously in places like Baltimore here, we have experienced such severe cuts to the education system. Another 100 million dollars apparently needs to be cut this year, and schools are losing not only their activities that are necessary, for example, the school my kids are in just lost their librarian of all things. I mean, how do you function in a school without a library where kids can actually check books out and look at books in the school? The school my kids go to, also they can’t drink out of the fountains because there are lead poisoning in the water supply. They have great big signs on the water fountains saying, “Do not drink.” I mean, this is the state of things. What are the expected outcomes and what are people supposed to do about this?

Glen Ford: They’re expected to demand charter schools. That’s what they’re expected to do. They’re expected also to somehow blame other forces for the deterioration of schools, when their kids can’t concentrate on learning because of those physical circumstances that you described. They’re supposed to blame teachers for that, and blame teachers’ unions. They’re supposed to blame everybody except the folks who are really responsible for denying funding for the schools. We have to understand that 46% of the funding for education doesn’t come from localities, and it doesn’t come from the federal government. In fact, the federal government provides the smallest share, the smallest portion for education. It comes from the states.

State funding’s based upon taxation, and taxation policy is based upon what corporations allow, so those same corporations that talk about a 21st century school system in which there are modern labs and there are school days that really reflect something other than agricultural society and there are teachers that are administered to much smaller classrooms, well those are the people who could fund the public schools and make them conform to that modern model. But don’t, because they want people to go to the alternative system that reflects corporate values and a corporate view of society, and certainly is not unionized, and has no notion of community control of education either.

Sharmini Peries: Now Glen, do you see an organized resistance? I know everywhere I look in Baltimore, there are students organizing or teachers organizing, there are school principals organizing against the cuts, and of course the PTOs and so on, but do you see a swelling of national resistance to this?

Glen Ford: Yeah, and the epicenter of the partnership between progressive and active and militant teachers, and progressive, active, and militant community was of course in Chicago. That spawned similar kinds of partnerships around the country which several years ago culminated in local and finally a big demonstration in Washington. Now, like most movements in the United States, they become interrupted during the presidential cycle, as people choose up their home team in terms of political parties. But the crisis of course continues, and we need a renewal of that kind of movement that was based or centered politically in Chicago.

Sharmini Peries: All right, Glen. I thank you for now, for joining us, but this issue isn’t going away. I hope you keep an eye on it for us and report back. Thank you so much.

Glen Ford: Thank you.

Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.