The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

3,000 demonstrate in Lansing to oppose charter schools

Oct 6, 2003

Multimillionaire Robert Thompson decided last week to take his ball and go home, retracting his offer to donate 200 million dollars to create charter schools in Detroit. Thompson was hoping to set up charter schools in Detroit as part of a deal made between Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and state legislators. That deal would double the limit of charter schools in the state from 150 to 300 by 2013. Up until now, only universities could charter schools in the state, but with this bill, foundations established by so-called rich benefactors would be allowed to open them.

Teachers, unions, community groups and others put a monkey wrench into the plans when they came out in force to demonstrate against charter schools at the state capitol building in Lansing. More than 3,000 people turned out, including some from communities outside Detroit who are also concerned about the growth of charter schools. Schools in Detroit shut down because the teachers planned ahead of time to drive to Lansing for the demonstration.

Charter schools are a complete rip-off. They are a way for wealthy individuals, corporations, religions, and universities with connections to the politicians to drain public money out of the public schools for their own benefit or use. Even when a "benefactor" gives money to build a charter school, money to run and maintain it comes out of the public school budgets, but the public schools don't control how the money is spent. There is little regulation of what these schools teach or how they perform.

The backers of charter schools claim that they are a way to provide better schools, but in reality they have not been that. One of the private companies that has won many contracts for running schools around the country is Edison Schools, Inc. Edison Schools have performed worse than the public schools in most cases and no better everywhere else.

It's true that there are problems with how the public schools are performing, especially in the poorer school districts. That's because most of the funding of the public schools is still left up to each school district. The wealthier school districts generally spend at least twice as much per student as do the poorer districts, and in some cases three times as much. This results in fewer teachers with larger class sizes. It means less money for books and supplies. By creating charter schools, the politicians are not addressing this problem, only using the poor performance of the schools as an excuse to hand more public money over to private interests, leaving still less for children's education.

Public schools would never have existed in the first place if it had been left up to the politicians. The public schools came out of popular social movements. Public schools became widespread in the Northeast and Midwest only with the precursors of the union movement, when the first workingmen's parties were formed in the late 1820s. One of the main demands of those parties was publicly-funded schools open to everyone.

Public schools did not exist in the South until the Reconstruction movement of ex-slaves and poor whites after the Civil War began to set them up. During slavery, it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. Most poor whites were not able to go to school at that time either. Reconstruction established the principle – for the first time anywhere – that every child had the right to an education.

Public schools continue to exist today only because of the struggles of working people to defend them. The teachers and parents who demonstrated in Lansing have every reason to defend public schools.