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Privatizers target public schools PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 December 2016 17:14

It is all but certain that attempts will be made in the next four years to privatize Social Security and Medicare. Look for public schools to be added in some way to that privatizing to-do list.

The person Donald Trump has chosen to be the next U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is a crusader empowered by her family’s vast wealth who is bent on changing public education as America knows it by diverting funding from public schools to voucher and charter schools.

The nomination makes the egalitarian American imperative of universal education more vulnerable than ever to the forces of politics and ideology.

The ideology is all too familiar. Like those who want the private sector to take over the essential safety nets of Social Security and Medicare, the adherents of public school privatization want free-market organizations to take charge of education.

Wisconsin residents have seen plenty of this as the Legislature, following Gov. Scott Walker’s lead, has cut public school funding while steadily increasing the amount of taxpayer money given to voucher and charter schools.

Ozaukee Press readers were exposed to a novel justification for this short-changing of public schools in a recent letter to the editor from state Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville). Stroebel wrote that taxpayers of Ozaukee County and the rest of his district should be thankful that state education money is being spent on voucher schools in Milwaukee because without those schools the state would have to send more aid to the Milwaukee public school system.

“The money has to come from somewhere,” Stroebel wrote, “in this case local school aid.”

No, it does not have to come from local school aid. The state’s obligation to fund public education is not supposed to be some sort of zero-sum game in which one school district’s gain is another’s loss. All public school districts deserve a fair share of state education aid regardless of how much tax money the Legislature sends to private schools.

Wisconsin’s public schools have suffered some of the deepest cuts in state education spending in the nation. Meanwhile, taxpayer funding for voucher students in Wisconsin has increased by 14%.

School privatization zealots don’t seem to understand, or refuse to face, the fact that the institution of public education is strongly supported, in fact admired, by the American public as an essential function of a democratic society.

That was proven in Wisconsin’s November election in which 88% of 55 school district referendums were approved by voters—voters who agreed to pay higher property taxes for the betterment of their public schools.

That astonishing number of referendums—totalling more than $800 million for facilities and operational spending—needed to keep schools functioning effectively is a clear indication of the financial squeeze put on public schools by the combination of reduced state aid and state-mandated limits on local tax levies.

Even some of the most devoted proponents of public education agree that school choice, in the form of charter schools managed by responsible nonprofit organizations and well-run non-public schools whose students qualify for tax-supported vouchers to pay for tuition, should have a place in the education mix. 

That place, however, should not be created at the expense of public schools.

There is no dearth of success stories about individual charter and voucher schools that have excelled in inspiring children to learn. Yet promoters of choice schools have generally oversold their ability to improve education overall, even in cities where public education has struggled.

The most notorious example is the city of Detroit, where education privatizing advocates persuaded officials to allow wide-open competition by for-profit choice schools to educate the city’s children. The result of what has been described as a Wild West of cutthroat competition was academic achievement worse than that of underfunded public schools.

One of the architects of that disaster was Betsy DeVos, the soon-to-be secretary of education.

A time for national service PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 November 2016 17:15

When Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office as president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017, it will be exactly 56 years since 17 of the most remembered words in presidential oratory were spoken.

John F. Kennedy, in his presidential inauguration address on Jan. 20, 1961, challenged his fellow Americans to: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

The words seem older than that half century plus six years; they sound alien, as though spoken in a foreign language, in the political atmosphere that abides now in the nation and resulted in the remarkable 2016 presidential election outcome.

Trump’s victory can be seen as a strident call by aggrieved voters for their country to do more for them. 

Citizens of a democracy have every right to demand that their government act in ways that help them make their lives better, and this certainly includes enacting policies that address economic anxiety.

And yet for a country to claim to be great—whether that be “great again,” in Trump’s words, or “still great,” as Hillary Clinton put it—there has to be something in its character more noble than a what’s-in-it-for-me outlook.

That noble element of the American character surely exists among its young citizens. It is the responsibility of the nation’s leaders, most of all its president, to inspire national service as an expectation of citizenship and to ensure that opportunities for that service, along with appropriate incentives and rewards, are available for all who are willing to serve their country as volunteers.

National service opportunities exist in the military services, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. The latter, which organizes volunteers to work on projects dealing with domestic needs, requires a major expansion. It currently has slots for only 75,000 volunteers. That should increase many fold, as should the college scholarships provided for those who serve.

A promising idea for further expanding opportunities for national service is to create a national service reserve and enlist millions of 18 to 30-year-old Americans into its ranks. Members would be trained in many skills and could be called on by state and local leaders to serve when a need arises, say in the aftermath of a national disaster.

It would be a long shot to expect President Trump to issue an inspirational call in his inaugural speech for volunteer service to help make America great again. There is no record of Trump having performed any sort of public service as he pursued fortunes as a real estate mogul and reality TV star. What’s more, he might find the concept of a national service reserve unappealing because it’s Hillary Clinton’s idea. 

Still, the awesome dimension of the presidency has inspired a broader understanding of America’s responsibilities in unlikely subjects before. 

Dare we hope that the election winner who made many promises to those who asked what their country could do for them will ask for something for the country in return?

Truth in the age of fake news PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 22 November 2016 19:18

The truth hurts.

That ancient aphorism helps explain the loathing in some quarters for the mainstream media.

That term referring to traditional newspaper and broadcast news organizations is now commonly used in the pejorative sense. Criticism of journalists rose to a fevered pitch during the run-up to the presidential election. At Trump rallies, both the candidate and some of his admirers voiced outright hatred for the mainstream media.

This contempt for professional journalists is based on the notion that they represent a sinister cabal conspiring to influence issues and elections with slanted reporting. Several regular writers of letters to the editor published in Ozaukee Press are fond of describing the mainstream media as “enablers” of liberal politicians.

There is about as much truth in that as in the report that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for president. That absurdity was only one of many fake news reports that were taken as fact by the growing ranks of the gullible in the so-called age of information.

The rise of fake news—false reports accepted as fact for no more reason than that they were repeated on the likes of Facebook or Twitter or by cable television talkers dispensing opinion as truth—should be taken as evidence that the mainstream media are needed more than ever.

Legitimate journalists are trained to uncover facts and report them to the public. It is their mission, their reason for existence. 

Buying into the idea that the mainstream media is a cohesive amalgamation of journalists who knowingly report false information in furtherance of some sort of agenda requires about the same level of gullibility as believing Barack Obama is a gay, African-born Muslim with a history of drug dealing, another widely read fake news item.

Reporters are fiercely competitive, as are their bosses on the business side of news organizations. The chances that they would work together toward some political end are nil. But beyond that, the claim that the mainstream media has an agenda to somehow subvert the political process is nonsense per se because the core of journalism is a commitment to reporting facts.

The practitioners of journalism are human, and thus perfection is out of reach. Lazy, incompetent or biased reporting exists, but it is not tolerated in responsible news organizations. 

The mainstream media’s commitment to facts is both its saving grace and its problem—some people don’t want facts or prefer their own versions of facts. Despisal of the mainstream media has much in common with the medieval practice of killing the messenger who delivers bad news.

Politicians have been condemning the messenger for delivering news that puts them in a bad light for ages, though in the 2016 presidential election the practice generated a volume of vitriol that exceeded historical standards. 

For partisans in one camp or the other, it was painful to read or hear news about Trump’s bragging of sexual assaults or Clinton’s State Department emails turning up on the computer of a disgraced, sex-obsessed former congressman.

Which proves the adage: The truth hurts.

It hurts, but like an effective medicine, it’s good for us. It’s the antidote for fake news.

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