We hear the constant discussion from both Democrats and Republicans about the need to reform our education system. Every day there are reports about the failure of education in the U.S. Many politicians point to the schools, trying to blame teachers for their methods and their low standards.
Funding the Rich and Gutting Education
In reality, the heads of corporations and banks don’t have any concern for the standards or quality of education for the children of workers. The only purpose mass public education serves is to prepare the next generation of workers for work. But for decades the number of available jobs have been steadily declining. Between 2007 and 2008, over 26 million jobs were lost. Currently about 12 million workers are unemployed, and tens of millions more have been forced to work only part-time jobs. Many of the jobs that remain don’t require years of formal education. So, the bosses through the federal and state governments have carried out a massive campaign to reduce education spending, along with most social services.
The Federal government, along with state governments across the country, have been decreasing taxes on corporations, banks, and wealthy individuals. As these groups pay less money in taxes, state and federal governments cut educational funding. At the state level it has been worse since state funding makes up over 85 percent of education funding in each state. About two billion dollars has been cut from education every year nationwide since 2000. In 2011 and 2012 it was about five billion dollars each year.
Closing Schools, Firing Teachers, Hurting Students
During this assault on education, federal laws imposed new restrictions on school districts. Under the Bush administration from 2001-2008, this was called No Child Left Behind. These policies were continued and expanded under the Obama administration under the program called Race to the Top. These laws changed the way public schools receive funding, linking funding to student performance on standardized tests. The lower the scores of the students, the less funds the schools received. Any school that did not meet the strict standards would undergo so-called “restructuring”: schools could be closed down, the staff fired, the administration replaced, extra-curricular programs eliminated, teachers forced to take pay cuts – in each case it means disaster for the school.
In 2007-08 thirty-five hundred schools nationally were forced to undergo this federal restructuring. In 2010 about 38 percent of schools were failing to meet the standards and were eligible for restructuring. Over the years this has meant a downward spiral for public schools in the poorest neighborhoods, leading to the closure of hundreds of schools throughout the country. Since the year 2000, school districts in major cities nationwide have closed an average of twelve schools each, totaling over 1,000 schools.
Elementary school teachers who used to teach 20 students today find themselves with over 25 students. High School teachers can end up with class sizes of more than 40 students but in many districts class sizes have reached 50 students. In California, K-12 schools have been cut more than $18 billion from 2008-2011, which is over 50 percent of the entire K-12 budget. California ranks at the bottom of all 50 states in the ratios of teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses to students. Overcrowded California schools enroll up to five times the number of students they were built to serve.
At the same time, schools are reducing the amount of time students spend at school. Across the country, 120 school districts have moved to four-day school weeks. Hundreds of school districts have eliminated summer school programs.
Fighting Against the Attacks on Education
Students and teachers have not accepted the attacks on public education laying down. In Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, Florida, and many other states, legislation was passed limiting state, municipal, and school employees’ collective bargaining rights to only cover wages and working conditions, eliminating bargaining over health care, sick time, or retirement, and in some cases the right to strike was taken away. In some states, workers have been able to push back and repeal these laws, but these fights are far from over.
In Wisconsin in 2011, Governor Scott Walker was proposing major cuts to education along with attacks on public workers’ unions, attempting to allow the state to restrict the rights of workers to negotiate labor contracts. Tens of thousands of workers mobilized to take over the state capitol building and eventually stopped many of the attacks.
In Chicago in 2012, former Chief of Staff for President Obama, and current Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, attempted a massive attack on the public school teachers and schools of Chicago, proposing major cuts to teacher salaries and school funding. In response, 26,000 teachers went on strike in September 2012 to defend public education in Chicago. They were able to restrict how severe some of these cuts were.
If the bosses had their way, they would throw every student, teacher, and school employee out in the cold – except of course for their own children at the few elite schools. There would be no education for working people at all because they need so few new workers. These attacks are not over. And it is going to take major fights that mobilize workers, students, and teachers throughout society to demand access to a quality education. There is more than enough wealth in this society to provide a free, quality education for all people.