Privatizing public education, too

PRIVATIZING PUBLIC EDUCATION, TOO…. In the months leading up to the midterm elections, we heard prominent far-right candidates talk up a lot of privatization schemes. Republicans endorsed proposals on privatizing everything from Social Security to V.A. hospitals, Medicare to the Centers for Disease Control.

But in Florida, which for some reason elected a criminal to be the state’s chief executive, Gov.-elect Rick Scott (R) has begun pushing the idea of privatizing public education, too.

Gov.-elect Rick Scott told about 900 voucher students in St. Petersburg Thursday that he wanted to “give every child in the state every opportunity that you’ve had, to make sure that you go to whatever school you want to.” In an interview later with the St. Petersburg Times, he said he wants a program that allows parents to use state education dollars at the school of their choice.

“The parent should figure out where the dollars for that student are spent,” Scott said. He added, “So if the parents want to spend it on virtual school, then spend it on virtual school. If they want to spend it on, you know, whatever education system they believe in, whether it’s this public school or that public school or this private school or that private school, that’s what ought to happen.”

The incoming governor probably realizes this, but his approach is a model that would effectively end public education. Florida would effectively take its education budget, figure out how many students there are, and start cutting checks in the form of vouchers. Schools’ budgets would be determined by how many vouchers they collected.

The St. Petersburg Times called it “one of the most radical education ideas that [Florida] — or arguably any state — has ever considered.”

That’s true. Traditionally, voucher proponents maintained a pretense about trying to help low-income students “escape” from struggling public schools, getting vouchers through small, targeted programs to pay the tuition at private schools. I’ve always considered the approach something of a crock — when right-wing activists are trying to “help” low-income families, it’s best to be suspicious — but at least it had a credible veneer.

But Scott’s plan in Florida drops the pretense and privatizes education. A Republican state representative conceded that if such a plan were approved, “public education as we know it ceases to exist.”

As recently as a couple of years ago, it looked as if even ardent voucher boosters were prepared to move on to other ideas. The public generally doesn’t like these schemes, and conservatives were getting tired of fighting a losing battle.

I guess the break is over, and it’s time for another round.