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By: Ikaweba Bunting & Deirdre Frontczak

Privatization is the transfer of public funds into private hands. Taxpayer-funded, but privately run, is how privatization of the public sector works (think water, electricity, garbage disposal, police and fire, prisons, pensions, and increasingly education).

This structural adjustment of the economic and social compact has three pillars: (1) deregulation of the corporate sector; (2) reduction of taxes; (3) cuts in public spending, particularly in areas that benefit the lower socio-economic classes.

The road to privatization targets people-first social policies, and public service employees and their representative unions, as malefactors undermining national prosperity. In our field of education, the privatization framework results in reduced funding for public schools, increased user fees for subsidiary services, and competition between those institutions devoted to serving all students versus those who cherry-pick the best and brightest. Removing community control of public schools skews access to quality schools to the privileged, exacerbating inequalities for economically oppressed and marginalized communities.

Markets in education under the rhetoric of school choice, charter schools, or parental choice help frame this agenda of cutting government subsidies to education and other public services to maintain the status quo of power and wealth distribution. The global context under which this functions demands removal of critical thinking, analytical purpose, and social responsibility from curricula, thus reducing the purpose of education to preparation units of labor for jobs in the global economy. This especially defines education for impoverished and marginalized communities.

While we generally identify Ronald Reagan as the architect of our current mode of privatization, its roots extend back to the 1950s in response to the Supreme Court’s decision ending segregation in public schools. When “Big Government” became the code word for disinvestment, marginalized communities across the spectrum lost the federal government as their guarantor of public protection.

In so many ways, today’s dynamic is both more challenging and confusing than ever before. While California deliberates limitations on privatization, the discussions in Washington, D.C. are tilted full-steam in the other direction. Education Secretary DeVos has made privatization of education the centerpiece of her agenda and her confirmation by the U.S. Senate gives her the power of federal rulemaking to move in that direction. In February, the Trump Administration announced that evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, will lead an education task force to stop regulations of the Education Department, especially those that apply to colleges and universities.

Our students, colleges, and communities have all benefitted from the public nature of these schools. While higher education in the United States is mostly in the purview of the states, not the federal government, these new developments pose a tremendous threat. Pride in the educational democracy of community colleges occurs from the understanding that public institutions contribute to the common good. When that notion is attacked, our future is at stake.

Ikaweba Bunting teaches social studies at El Camino College and Deirdre Frontczak teaches philosophy at Santa Rosa Junior College.

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