On the Lege

Miseducation

Each legislative session, there are literally hundreds of bills filed concerning virtually every aspect of public education. The 78th Legislature is no exception. The various school-finance bills (likely to be punted to a special session) have garnered most of the attention, and most of the rest will die in committee, but there are dozens of others -- several malevolent -- still breathing.

Many education bills still pending challenge the very idea of public education. Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, Public Education chair, and his legislative allies, frankly believe that the almost 200-year-old U.S. institution of collectively educating our children in government-run schools is a de facto form of socialism. The only way to save the system, in their perspective, is by radical deregulation and competition -- that is, by steadily privatizing the public schools. "People tell me," said Grusendorf aide Byron Schlomach, "that bringing competition into the public-school system only works in 'theory.' Well, the only theory that has yet to be proven is socialism. Capitalism works. Let's use what we know works. Outside the school walls, people exist in a world driven by competition. Public schools need to be competitive as well."

And if some schools -- and students -- "lose" the competition, well, life is unfair.

There is in fact little reason to believe "competitive" schools work better -- especially since the public sector by definition operates those institutions that are insufficiently profitable for private business. Texas schools have demonstrably improved in the past decade not because of experiments in deregulation like charter schools, but in spite of them. Charter schools -- essentially deregulated public schools -- are on the whole doing much worse at educating similar populations of students (see "Who Can Vouch for the Charters?," April 4). The for-profit company Edison Schools Inc., which runs 150 schools nationally, is near bankruptcy. What becomes of Edison "customers" (80,000 students) if the company goes under? It certainly won't be pretty.

When some legislators equate any collective endeavor that benefits the common good with communism, their bills are driven by ideology, not pragmatism. Grusendorf and friends would do well to read up on some great philosophers who felt strongly that publicly held "commons" -- like schools -- were essential for a functioning democracy.

No, not Karl Marx -- good old-fashioned American thinkers like Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, and John Dewey.

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