One argument used to justify private sector involvement in education is that it reduces the burden on the taxpayer. This is what Californians did in 1976 – they voted in a referendum for tax breaks and the “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation”, known as Proposition 13, was passed. This inadvertently cut state funding to schools.
Today, schools in one of the richest states in the richest countries of the world are in crisis. TES (10 February 2012 – not available on line) reported how California had slipped from being one of the best systems in the US to one of the worst. State funding only covers essential “academic” subjects – anything else, sport, music, drama, even school librarians, has had most of its support cut. Californian state education relies on principals, teachers and educationalists to keep it functioning. Parents are expected to contribute to their children’s learning and to become involved in fund-raising – but even in wealthy areas such as Burlingame in San Francisco, the Burlingame Community for Education Foundation (BCE) worries about donor apathy.
In poorer areas the situation is even worse. It is assumed that teachers will assist their students’ educational needs – this can range from $350 to $1,000 pa. Demoralisation among teachers is so high that half leave the profession with five years.
The funding crisis has had other consequences – the increasing involvement of the private sector. TES gives the example of the Foundation for Excellence in Education
formed by Jeb Bush (brother of George “). The non-profit charity claims to be “An education system that ensures each and every student achieves his or her God-given potential for learning and prepares all students for success in the 21st century economy”. Its mission is “to ignite a movement of reforms, state by state, to transform education for the 21st century.” All very laudable until one discovers that this “reform” will be facilitated by a link up with Wireless Generation, a Murdoch-owned company providing software, assessment tools and data services. Murdoch was a keynote speaker
at an education summit in October 2011 organised by Bush.
Alliances between not-for-profit charities and businesses which provide services to schools can lead to education being run for the benefit of business not education. Of course, schools can and do purchase resources and services from business but contracts can be broken if the school is not satisfied. However, if the organisation running the school has a cosy relationship with a particular business that sells goods or services to schools, or has a trading wing, then neither would want to break this mutually beneficial relationship.
Remember, when profit-making firms become involved in education, it’s not altruism, it’s an investment