Ed Reform vs. Democracy
Above Photo: Lesbian heart/Flickr
It was not that long ago that I wrote a piece about how school choice, by shifting the locus of control for the education purse strings, tends to undermine democractic processes. After all, if only parents of school age children, or only rich folks who contribute to tax credit scholarships, get to decide which schools get paid, then the non-parent taxpayers who are footing the bills don’t really have much say, and the duly-elected school board has nothing much to do or say, either. School choice is, often, literally taxation without representation (a topic that I could swear has come up before in US history).
Still, it’s not always so subtle.
One of the most famously unsubtle incidents would be Reed Hastings (Netflix), who in 2014 told the California School Boards Association in fairly clear terms that elected school boards were a scourge and should be done away with. Hastings has been plenty active in the charter sector, managing to help push through the California law that not only did away with charter caps, but made it possible to run a chain of charters with just one (unelected) board.
But education reform has generally found democracy to be an obstruction. After all, if Bill Gates thinks he knows how to fix education, why should he have to run for some sort of public office when he can just grab power and finance cooperation? Much of ed reform has been powered by movers and shakers and corporate power guys who like (and undoubtedly feel justified by) the all-powerful CEO model. As Hastings once put it when discussing Netflix, “We’re like a pro sports team, not a kid’s recreational team. Netflix leaders hire, develop and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position.”
These guys hate unions and government regulation for the same reason guys like Carnegie and Rockefeller hated them– not just because they cost them money, but because they hampered their ability to be visionary leaders who could control all the elements of their business and make the corporation operate “properly and efficiently” (understanding that only the visionary Captain of Industry truly sees what steps must be taken).
These dismissals of democracy are happening all the time. Let’s check in in Florida (state motto “Let’s drag public education out back and bury it in the swamp”) where privatizers in government jobs have been pushing Duval schools to hurry up and hand their schools over to charter companies, already.
So now, lawmaker Jason Fischer has a new idea– replace the elected school board with an one appointed by the mayor.
Reformsters are fans of the mayoral takeover of school districts. It gives them cover (after all, the mayor is elected) but insulation from actual democracy (mayoral elections are rarely–though not never— about education).
Fischer may seem especially cranky because he was elected to the board at one point, but… well, that could have gone better. Like a good Floridian Republican, he clashed with the board over spending money or raising taxes, because Florida (state motto “How can charters compete for education dollars if public schools are fully funded?”). And he’s long been a school choice advocate. Ultimately he resigned in order to find some other election fish to fry, but he’s kept at the Duval board by proposing term limits and calling for audits. This might also have something to do with the fight between the school board and the mayor over a tiny tax levy to fix some tragically old school buildings.
Whatever the case, the bottom line is the same– Fischer would like the state legislature to strip Duval County voters of their right to elect a school board, and he’s not even offering a lame explanation for why that would be a good idea. Just need to get some of that troublesome democratic process out of the way.