Most of the rhetoric we’ve heard from Republican Presidential candidates can be boiled down to one theme. They want to take government apart, piece by piece, and move its services over to the private sector, where their rich contributors can make a profit.
Their specific proposals — lowering taxes, cutting regulations, privatizing Medicare and Social Security and eliminating the Department of Education – are just so many items on their “Dismantle Government” shopping list.
This is nothing new, of course. Republicans have promoted an anti-government agenda for decades. And they have developed a simple three-step process to sell their “government is the problem” mantra to voters as they enrich their friends.
The process is: Step 1: Demonize. Step 2: Privatize. Step 3: Monetize.
During my years as a teacher and since I retired, I’ve watched them employ the three-step process in their relentless war against public education, so I’ll use that as a example of how this works.
Step 1: Demonize public schools
It’s not enough for Republicans to say our public schools need to be improved. They need to convince us public schools are beyond any hope of redemption. Schools are teaching the wrong things when they teach anything at all, Republicans maintain. The super-educated children in other countries will outsmart and out-compete our next generation.
It wasn’t too long ago teachers were honored for their devotion and service, even when schools were criticized. No longer. Republicans lash out at public school teachers, calling them lazy, incompetent and overpaid, coddled by the evil teachers’ unions, which exist only to fleece taxpayers.
Republicans rely on half-truths and distortions when they demonize schools. The truth is, many public schools are excellent, and some areas of the country, like the Northeast, do as well on international tests as top scoring nations.
Our biggest educational failings have more to do with problems connected with poverty than with the quality of our schools. A strategy combining socioeconomic and school-based improvements is what we need to lift the achievement of our lowest performing students.
But you’ll never hear that from the public education bashers. They need to convince us our schools are beyond any hope of salvation so they can move on to . . .
Step 2: Privatize schools
If public schools are beyond salvation as they maintain, the only possible remedy is to let the marketplace succeed where government has failed. That means putting education into private hands.
Vouchers are Republicans’ favorite form of privatization
— giving parents money to pay for private school tuition. But the public has never liked the idea of vouchers, so Republicans began with a half step: charter schools. Charters are still public schools, but they’re run by private individuals and companies. Teachers don’t need formal credentials – or even college degrees – and they’re not union members. When it comes to privatization, charters are the best thing around until vouchers come along.
What the privatizers never tell us is, most studies have concluded there is virtually no difference in the academic achievement levels in traditional public schools, charters or private schools. When you compare similar students, all three types of schools appear to be equally successful.
But Republicans aren’t really concerned with educational outcomes. They need privatization so they can move on to . . .
Step 3: Monetize schools
It used to be common wisdom, no one makes money from education. That was before privatization. Now, corporations and hedge funds have figured out how to turn schools into cash cows. They’re buying school buildings and making healthy profits renting them to charters.
School Management Organizations are taking large chunks of money from willing charters in return for supplying books, curriculum and administrative oversight. The result? Less money for students’ educations and more money for educational profiteers.
If Republicans succeed in passing serious voucher legislation, expect the same profit motive to worm its way into private education.
You can apply this three-step process to any number of Republican proposals. It makes their strategies for dismantling government easier to understand – and to prevent.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.