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Diane Ravitch Tells Bill Moyers Why School Privatization Is Turning into a Disaster

The high cost of turning schools into profit centers.

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Public education is becoming big business as bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity investors are entering what they consider to be an “emerging market.” As Rupert Murdoch put it after purchasing an education technology company, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch says the privatization of public education has to stop. As assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, she was an advocate of school choice and charter schools; under George W. Bush, she supported the No Child Left Behind initiative. But after careful investigation, she changed her mind, and has become, according to Salon, “the nation’s highest profile opponent” of charter-based education.

Bill Moyers: This week on Moyers & Company, the high cost of turning our schools into profit centers.

Diane Ravitch: In terms of the public coffers there are billions of dollars, but I think what’s at stake is the future of American public education. I believe it is the foundation stone – one of the foundation stones of our democracy. So an attack on public education is an attack on democracy.

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BM: Welcome. Charter schools are booming, and controversial. There are now more than 6,000 across the country, double the number from just a decade ago. They’re publicly funded, but privately run. And whatever you think about the merit of charter schools versus public schools, merit is no longer driving the debate. What’s driving the debate is money. The charter movement is now part of the growing privatization of public education and Wall Street sees an emerging market. Take a look at this piece published last fall on Quote, “ ... dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors ... ” gathered to discuss “ ... investing in for-profit education companies ... ” There’s a potential gold rush here. Public education from kindergarten through high school pulls in more than $500 billion in taxpayer revenues every year, and crony capitalists and politicians alike are cashing in. Example, “In Ohio, two firms [both contributors to Republicans] operate nine percent of the state’s charter schools and are collecting 38 percent of the state’s charter school funding increase ... ” In Philadelphia, a democratic stronghold, “ ... 23 public schools closed for good ... ” last summer, “ ... to be replaced by charters.”

Here in New York City, progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio set out to curb the charter school poaching of public education. But in recent weeks the charter movement, bankrolled by wealthy financiers, struck back hard with a media campaign costing more than three-and-a-half-million dollars.

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