The local “unification” attack on public schools is part of a nationwide assault

The “unification” attack on the public schools in Valdosta and Lowndes County, Georgia is part of a nationwide assault on public schools, which has nothing to do with improving public education, and everything to do with private profit and private schools: disaster capitalism right here at home. And it’s not government causing our local disaster: it’s local business interests. What should we do about that?

Jeff Bryant wrote for Campaign for America’s Future 13 October 2011, Starving America’s Public Schools: How Budget Cuts and Policy Mandates Are Hurting Our Nation’s Students

Critics of America’s public schools always seem to start from the premise that the pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade public education system in this country is failing or in crisis.

This crisis mentality is in stark contrast to years of survey research showing that Americans generally give high marks to their local schools. Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup surveys have found that the populace holds their neighborhood schools in high regard; in fact, this year’s survey found that “Americans, and parents in particular, evaluate their community schools more positively than in any year since” the survey started.

The first factor: New austerity budgets passed by state legislatures are starting to have a huge influence on direct services to children, youth, and families.
Well, we don’t have that problem in Valdosta City and Lowndes Schools. For example, graduation rates in Valdosta schools have been improving year over year, and both school systems are solvent.

So what happened instead? Why, they made up a crisis instead!

A local business group convinced enough registered voters to sign a petition to get a referendum on the November 8th ballot to decide whether to abolish the Valdosta City School System, which would force the Lowndes County School System to take it over, and also would result in massively raised taxes, which still wouldn’t be enough, so services would have to be cut. Voila! Forced budget crisis! Fortunately, the two school systems have seen through it, and the Lowndes County school system has published an extensive financial analysis of the situation.

The second factor: As public schools are grappling with these severe budget cuts to programs, they also are facing enormous pressure to transfer tax dollars to targets outside traditional public education. New policy mandates at the federal and state levels are forcing public school systems to redirect tax dollars meant for public schools to various privately held concerns such as charter schools, private and religious schools, and contractors and companies tasked with setting up new systems for testing and accountability. …
It’s not the government that’s causing our local public school problem: both school system boards and the Valdosta City Council have voted to oppose consolidation. And it’s not government that’s waiting in the wings with charter schools and private schools.

It’s the local “white fathers” in CUEE and the Chamber of Commerce who are practicing disaster capitalism, applying the shock doctrine with their paid petition recruiters, their fake “forums” at which they inadvertently demolish their own arguments, their slick radio ad starring a fake Morgan Freeman falsely invoking Martin Luther King, Jr., and their most recent meeting called by telephone in the middle of the night when both school superintendents were out of town and without inviting the newspaper of record.

The analysis in this report compels the authors to conclude that the debate and discussion about public education policy must both acknowledge the new realities in American public schools and focus attention on the issue of adequately funding programs that serve all of America’s public school students. The report also recommends that states provide regulatory relief to local districts in order to stanch the transfer of public education funds to privately held entities.
Once again, the local problem here wasn’t caused by government. It was caused by a minority of local business interests.

Fortunately, the rest of the community is not taking this lying down. Former Valdosta School superintendent Sam Allen marched with Occupy Valdosta, 150 strong, speaking at the MLK Monument, and stopping at the Chamber of Commerce to chant: “No Consolidation!”

The very next weekend, consolidation opponents held their own march, 300 strong that time, with Friends of Valdosta City Schools (FVCS), 2 is better than 1, SCLC, NAACP, and Occupy Valdosta folks saying Occupy the Polls, starting across from the Chamber and ending at the MLK Monument, where the Mayor of Valdosta said:

But what does Valdosta’s first black mayor say about it?

“Just Vote No,” the Mayor chants from a podium.

Meanwhile, opponents of consolidation continue to canvass door to door throughout Valdosta, helped by some of us disenfranchised folk in Lowndes County but outside the city limits who don’t get to vote.

I think that’s all great, and has a good chance of success. It better succeed, because the consequences of failure resulting in consolidation are disastrous.

But suppose it succeeds. I’m starting to ask another question, after all the time, money, and other expenses so many people are having to spend to fight this thing. I’m starting to ask: What will we do to hold accountable those who have mounted this attack on the local public school systems?


PS: Owed to Ron Kephart.