Public school funding: perhaps the public could help out?

I hold forth on/as the Nonprofiteer on the idiocy of our debating who should pay for public schools, and the extreme idiocy of our thinking it swell that the cradle of a democratic society should be controlled by individuals whom nobody elected.

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

12 thoughts on “Public school funding: perhaps the public could help out?”

  1. the extreme idiocy of our thinking it swell that the cradle of a democratic society should be controlled by individuals whom nobody elected.

    Well–maybe. On the other hand, the Department of Edutation and the Courts are not elected bodies.

    1. The DoE is run by an Obama administration appointee. And his boss *is* elected. We should at least use the levers we have. She’s right. Waiting for the political process to work is slow and frustrating and doomed to imperfection … but it’s still better when you compare it to the alternatives.

      Unless you’re a conservative, that is.

    1. I don’t understand: are you saying poor mothers don’t care about their children? Or that poor people don’t care how they’re governed?

      1. Yes and yes, in the sense that very often poor mothers cannot or will not take responsibility for *raising* their children, allowing such responsibility to be unloaded on to the rest of society, i.e., the government.

        1. Not taking responsibility would be something like leaving your kids in WalMart and walking into a brand new life. Taking responsibility would be getting the help you need wherever you can get it including public assistance.

  2. Individual parents, and in particular poor parents, do not stand up for themselves against the teacher unions. Not effectively, anyway, and not in the numbers necessary to get kids the education they need. Broad and Gates are enormously helpful as a counterweight. Charters and vouchers, enabling parents to walk when their kids are being ill served, are the strongest defense. Jindal’s defense of the children and parents who want to withdraw from public schools will result in many educated and empowered adults and, yes, greater democracy.

    1. Only in theory do charters and vouchers enable parents to walk when their kids are ill-served. In practice, the kids who need the most service are systematically excluded from the strongest schools to assure that those schools continue to show high test scores. And bleeding money out of the public school system does not improve it.

    2. Your comment doesn’t seem to be on the topic, which is how should we *fund* schools.

      Nevertheless, it’s an interesting point. But what makes you think parents have any more power over charter schools administration? From what I can tell, you are either in or out. I think the main advantage of a charter school — to the limited extent that *any* exists — is that everyone in that school chose to be there, and probably jumped through many hoops. Whereas, as Kelly points out, public schools have to take everyone.

      But I still think there is no real shortcut to democracy, or good schools. Billionaires aren’t going to save the rest of us, not least because they don’t know how. If parents don’t like the way a school is run, they can organize. It’s been done and it works.

      I also reject your assumption that teachers or unions are the root of “the problem.” Which we haven’t defined. However, governance issues arise everywhere there are people, and that topic interests me.

      1. In fact, it’s my impression that charters don’t even have to publicize their books. We have no idea how they’re being run or on whose money, or how much the fancy-pants administrators get paid to work their “miracles.” Mind you, this is just my impression from the papers. I haven’t made a study of it.

        And, some charter have unions, too. There’s no inherent contradiction.

  3. I mostly agree with Kelly’s point, unless she’s implying that local control of schools is a good thing in poor districts. This is the Ocean Hill-Brownsville war redux. In poor self-governing districts, schools are a lucrative source of rents: the biggest one around. Local pols in poor districts tend to be a corrupt gang of rent-seekers, especially for the more obscure offices, such as school board, and most especially when they’re only responsible for spending, not taxation. (This is inherent in poor districts, at least in states enlightened enough to try to equalize funding a bit.) If the pols can get their hands on the rents, bad things result. Yes, I know that this is a favorite right-wing trope. But when they’re right, they’re right.

    I live in Newark. I’m grateful that the state took over the school system. It hasn’t done wonders educationally, but things are looking up a little, and the corruption is way down. It’s no longer a jobs and contracts program for the connected. It used to be that the teachers union was the only voice for students. Now, there is a multiplicity of voices. They may be misguided (too much charter-ization for my taste), but they seem to be trying.

    Yes, I know, about the Michelle Rhee problem that sometimes supplants the local pol problem. But that doesn’t mean “local control” is a good thing.

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