The Spark

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

Detroit:
How to destroy a public school system

Nov 22, 2004

On November 2, Detroit voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have left the Detroit public schools in the same hands that have run them for the last several years. Only days later, the current head of the Detroit Public Schools, Kenneth Burnley, announced plans to close another 40 schools and cut another 4,000 jobs, blaming it on a budget deficit, including a newly discovered carryover deficit from last year – one they forgot to mention before the vote.

In a real sleight of hand, Burnley blamed the budget "crisis" on the district's declining enrollment. And the media explained it's the result of Detroit's declining population.

It's true the Detroit population has declined somewhat – in great measure because some black families are trying to go to the suburbs with better schools, just as white families did at an earlier time.

But the number of Detroit students has dropped more than three times as much in the same time period. So something else explains the enrollment drop – and that something has been the opening of charter schools. The number of Detroit students in charter schools increased by over 14,000 since the 1998-99 school year.

Kids are usually taken out of the public schools and put into charter schools in the hope they will do better. The bitter irony is that all the studies so far have shown that overall they do worse than the kids left behind in the schools they came from.

This is no surprise. Charter schools are taking public school money and usually putting it into the hands of people whose main goal is not the education of children. The money has often gone to friends of politicians, to religious groups masquerading as a school or to businessmen out to make a buck. Many of them have simply opened charter schools in the old school buildings the school district was forced to shut down. Their teachers, who are paid less than public school teachers, are usually less qualified.

This drive to establish charter schools can end up demolishing the whole public school system, which is based on neighborhood schools.

That's what is happening in the Detroit school district. Of the 6,100 jobs cut, many are jobs that will henceforth be done by private contractors who will pay lower wages, making off with the rest in profit. In other words, the politicians and the school officials are both privatizing the public schools!

Public schools are the best hope for giving children an education – but to do so they need the money currently being put into private hands.