The effort to privatize public schools undermines the very nature of a democratic government, replacing the sacred ideals of equality and shared fortunes with economic privilege and greed.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In addition, the founders signed a solemn pledge at the conclusion of the declaration, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
In the attempt to privatize public education, neither equality nor shared fortunes seems to matter. This is especially true when it comes to publicly funded charter schools run by for-profit companies.
In 2018, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration, led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, placed the privatization movement as a top priority.
Calling the traditional model for public education a “dead end,” DeVos has pushed for more public funding of both charter and private schools.
While many public charter schools around the United States provide excellent opportunities for students and families to enhance and expand their education, the problem arises when for-profit businesses manage these schools with minimal public oversight.
A perfect example of this problem is unfolding in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) has opened an inquiry into Epic Charter Schools – a virtual school blending online and in-person instruction.
While they claim to have drawn 10,000 students, which entitled them to tens of millions of dollars in state funding, Tulsa World reported that search warrant documents indicated OSBI is looking into potential fraud, embezzlement, forgery and willful neglect by governing board members.
Suspicions center around the allegation that Epic created “ghost” students to acquire state funding.
In the allegation, Epic is thought to have students doubly enrolled in both Epic and other private schools.
Their claimed enrollment would qualify the virtual school for state funds of $112.9 million in 2019 alone, despite any evidence that these students ever received Epic instruction.
Epic also is accused of using public money for recreational expenses, such as dance lessons, gymnastics and memberships for students.
According to the Tulsa World, each Epic student had access to $1,000 annually and, after deducting educational costs, Epic moved the remaining funds to a “Learning Fund” to use them for recreational expenses. The allegation states that Epic used millions of dollars to fund these extracurricular activities.
If these allegations hold, then this provides an example of how public schools fall victim to privatization. Potentially, millions of dollars have been diverted to a for-profit business and away from public education.
These funds could have been used in public school budgets to address deteriorating classrooms, outdated textbooks and sluggish teacher pay.
Instead, they were allegedly mismanaged and misappropriated to enhance profit margins.
If U.S. citizens truly believe in equality and shared fortunes, as our founders did during the 17th century, then we must fully fund public education for the common good of every child.
Rabbi Jesus demonstrated for me the value of children when he declared, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14).
He even sounded a warning to those preying on children: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
We must never let corruption and greed impede the progress of our children.
If Christians are serious about welcoming children into their midst and creating a better future for the next generation, then we must place all our efforts into educating them.
In the United States, we do this through our public education system. Therefore, let us support the saintly men and women called teachers by providing them with the best tools for learning possible, maintaining world-class facilities and pouring a strong foundation for the future.
While privatizing public schools with minimal oversight opens the door for corruption, fully funding public schools opens the door to a bright future.