The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools is a broad network of groups standing up for local and community schools, linking everything from the two national teacher unions to parent and community groups. AROS this month released a report looking at the issues surrounding the privatization of local schools and the stripping of local control. "Out of Control" is worth a read, particularly as it puts the newest reformster development in context.
In the introduction, AROS reminds us that this month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and notes that the act has been under attack as recently as the 2013 Supremes decision. But that's not the main focus of the report.
But there is a different attack on minority enfranchisement not addressed in the Voting Rights Act. Instead of barriers to the ballot box, local elected governance is being dissolved altogether.
The local governance that's being dissolved is the local elected oversight of schools, and AROS notes that these state-level take-overs of local schools "are happening almost exclusively in African American and Latino schools and districts—in many of the same communities that have experienced decades of underinvestment in their public schools and consistent attacks on their property, agency and self-determination."
The report looks at some specific instances of this sort of take-over and disenfranchisement, but the strength of the report is in how it gives context to what is going on.
School takeovers in non-wealthy, non-white neighborhoods come on the heels of decades of disinvestment. Even with Brown vs. Board of Education, most states linked school funding to local property taxes which, as the report notes, "embeds inequalities based on race and class." Poor schools exist in poor neighborhoods, where poor residents suffer from disinvestment in their neighborhoods as well as pressure to hold down costs of any relief or support, right down to fighting against unionization ("right to work" anyone?) and a higher minimum wage.
The rise of the modern charter movement meant a renewed interest in draining money out of poor communities, and financial pressures on states left more and more schools strapped for cash. The pattern was born in 1989 New Jersey-- states would not spend more money to support or improve the schools, but would instead take the districts over and give that money to private entities to run the schools instead, and in the process, wipe away all vestiges of democratic process. Twenty-nine US states now have a mechanism for a takeover.
Schools would be something done to poor black and brown citizens, not something done by them
AROS looks at the specific cases of Newark and New Orleans, and then they consider come of the implications and effects of these takeovers.
Fragmentation of political power. Local folks have no say in any aspect of the privatization. Charters answer to their own governing board, and as "recovery" and "achievement" districts spring up, even corporate control is unmanageable spread out. In Detroit, there are at least 45 separate entities running schools; in New Orleans there are 44, and nobody who is actually responsible for keeping track of all New Orleans students. The cracks through which one can fall are now huge, and the ability of local parents and voters to seek solutions from the People In Charge has been erased.
Loss of community-based institutions. In many poor communities, the school is one stable community center. But state takeover invariably involves "freeing" students from "the tyranny of geography." Saying that students should not be trapped in a particular school because of their address sounds noble, but in practice it means that the neighborhood loses one more unifying, strengthening connection (I recommend Robert Putnam's Our Children for a clear and thorough explanation of why that's a very bad idea). But in Chicago, some neighborhoods have no schools at all.
Increased segregation. The numbers are in, and charter schools exacerbate segregation. Now, frankly, local control in the hands of racist jerks can not only support segregate, but can make the effects of it far worse. But even in those cases, there is an electoral remedy. In state-run charter systems, there is no remedy at all.
Financial instability. Let me say it one more time-- if you think you can run multiple parallel school systems and maintain a total system with far more capacity than you use and do it all for the same costs as a single public system, you are a dope. And of course by the time the state steps in, the school district has already been starved of resources and needs more than simply maintenance-level support. As we've also seen repeatedly, the charters who are hired to run these schools commit to doing the job only as long as it suits them financially. On top of all that, let's consider a state like Ohio, which has exercised no educational or financial oversight over its charters, leading to a system that is laughably full of graft, corruption and incompetence. And yet, the state now wants to start taking over school districts and hiring a CEO to serve as conductor on the charter gravy train that will take the public school's place.
On top of this, it has to be said-- and AROS says it-- that this state-led destruction of democracy and school systems is happening almost exclusively in poor black and brown communities, communities that sometimes welcome the takeover because the neglect has previously been so bad, only to discover that state takeovers leave local citizens without a democratic voice or a community school for their children.
Read the whole report-- it's not too long and while it doesn't really break any new ground, it puts many of the pieces of this mess in one clear and cohesive narrative that can help you wrap your head around this huge disenfranchisement of American citizens in our poorest communities.