story by Claire Miller ǀ photo by Jason Braverman
In the 1870s, State Sen. Robert Smalls authored legislation establishing South Carolina’s first free and mandatory public school system – a move that other state legislatures replicated to form America’s public education system.
Fast forward almost 150 years to today’s public education landscape, which includes a mix of public schools and independently-operated charter schools, with a few districts using school voucher programs to shift education tax dollars to subsidize tuition for private and religious schools.
Walter C. Farrell, Jr., National Education Policy Center Fellow at the University of Colorado-Boulder, explored the growing trend of privatizing public education as the guest speaker at the 30th annual Benjamin E. Mays Lecture on Feb. 20.
More specifically, his research has tracked public school privatization from President Ronald Reagan’s term to present day and how in recent years, some corporations and legislators have pushed for more private funding for schools.
“What they’re after is taking this $1 trillion public education budget and turning it into a profit center,” Farrell, Jr. said. “For example, they’ll outsource food services and other school services instead of employing local residents, which devastates urban communities across this country.”
To resist this shift to privately-funded education, he suggests schools and communities pay closer attention to their elected officials at the local, state and federal levels to find out where they stand on school funding, create strategies for monitoring corporate privatization efforts and support teachers pushing back against public school privatization.
“We need to have relationships with the community to make certain they know what’s going on and to keep people engaged,” Farrell, Jr. said.
The annual Mays Lecture, hosted by the College of Education & Human Development’s Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, encourages the discussion of issues facing urban educational leaders, honors the memory of Benjamin E. Mays and promotes his philosophy of excellence in the education of those typically least well served by the larger society. For more information, visit https://crim.education.gsu.edu.