Issues

The following is a breakdown of an average day in high school, highlighting the differences between legislation and reality, between rich and poor, lobbyist and citizen, student and consumer. Each issue makes it clear that the corporate takeover of civil institutions reaches down past our parents, past our teachers, and into our futures. What’s written here is meant to evolve: Please leave a comment and join the discussion.

A DAY IN HIGH SCHOOL (see below list for text)

  • Public vs. Private: Charter Schools
  • Class: Funding, Textbooks and Teachers
  • Lunch: You Are What You Eat
  • Corporate Model: Standardized Testing
  • The Future: Student Debt

Our concerns are those of Occupy Wall Street. Check out the movement’s

PUBLIC vs. PRIVATE: CHARTER SCHOOLS–the contracting-out of America’s public education

WHAT ARE CHARTER SCHOOLS?

As defined by the National Education Association, charter schools are publicly funded elementary and secondary schools that “have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statues that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results” which are stated in the school’s charter. [1]

But that’s not the whole picture. Charter schools can be founded by teachers, by non-profit groups, or by corporations, and each state has different laws about how charter schools can operate. According to a survey conducted by the Nation Resource Center on Charter School Finance and Governance, as of 2008, thirteen states allowed partnerships between charter schools and for-profit companies; seventeen sates allowed partnerships for services, and three states allowed for-profit companies to actually open their own charter schools. There is wide variation from state-to-state: In New York, no charter school founded after 2010 is allowed to be managed by a for-profit institution, while in Michigan, 80% of charter schools are for-profit. [2]

While charter schools are opened and attended by choice, they play a huge role in determining exactly what choices there are to begin with for students and parents. Charter schools are hybrid public-private inventions, and some groups take advantage of their position between sectors for profiteering.

CORPORATIONS AREN’T PEOPLE—and they aren’t students, either.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately managed. This is why mostly Republicans have supported them since the first. The state in which a charter school operates is able to count it as one more in their district, even though they do not manage it. Why would a state do this? More schools mean more federal funding—but instead of being put to use by the public schools it was intended for, the money’s going to the private sector.

Often, politicians back charter schools for the same reason GOP members back corporations: The private companies who own some of the schools give campaign money and support to whoever will make it easier for them to, well, be a corporation. These donor-companies are repaid by policies that deregulate Federal checks on the private sector, and, in this case, dissolve a competitor: the Department of Education.[3]

Most charter schools do not have to abide by state requirements for hiring teachers. Because their employees are not educators, they cannot form unions. Not only that, but funding for the schools is coming out of the education budget of each state—and each state is getting that money by raising taxes on citizens who think they’re paying for public schools. [3]

Because charter schools are exempt from state testing standards, there is no way to compare scholastic achievement between them and their public cousins. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor for positive academic results. This is one of the main arguments for proponents of charter schools—but data gathered by the Department of Education suggests that, despite this, charter schools are not held to higher standards than public schools.[4] That, however, is not to say that those standards are met by the public schools themselves: Instead of fixing the schools we have, we’re letting them become useless and allowing charter schools, for better or worse, to become the alternative.

Today, the Department of Education supplies charter schools with money, and is thereby able to regulate them. But this system, benign on the surface, is just one step further in the replacement of yet another civil institution with a corporate one. We cannot allow the privatization of government to become the solution to our woes: The contracting-out of education is not the answer to our country’s failing school system. The problems students, parents and teachers deal with today will take time to be resolved—and have their roots in bigger issues outside of the classroom. To think that they can be patched up with a quick fix provided by the free market is not only false but also damaging. Corporate structuring has become so ingrained into the way our country operates that we have forgotten the very institutions that caused our problems, and started to think that they are the remedy instead.

CLASS: FUNDING, TEXTBOOKS AND TEACHERS–just what are we learning, and how?

under construction

LUNCH: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT–corporations get a free lunch; students pay.

THE MENU

The cost of feeding the 16.3 million high schoolers in the US everyday, and the immensity of the administrative bureaucracy needed to pull it off are hard enough to sort out. But add to this mix the force exerted by industries with vested interests in maintaining their lunch-line markets, and a simple meal can become an impossibility.

We need to make sure that students are the ones being fed, not companies—and school lunch programs are another example of failure to do just that. In 2010, the federal government spent $9.7 billion for the National School Lunch Program. Launched in 1946 as a safety net, the program has needed reform for over half a century. Under the program, the Department of Agriculture gives public schools cash for every served meal. Its annual cost of implementation, steady at around $9 billion for years, has been widely acknowledged as inadequate to cover food costs.[1] Inadequate for food costs. But even more startling is the fact that schools actually use very little of this money for food: Instead, it has to cover everything food-related, from janitorial services to heat for the cafeteria. [2]

To ease the economic burden, schools are allowed to receive commodity foods—some of which are valued at just about 20 cents a meal. Familiar to the list are high-fat meats and cheeses, sodium-rich snacks and a ton of processed foods like chicken nuggets that need only be heated and served. On top of that, public schools get periodic bonuses from the USDA: leftovers from giant American agri-corp producers.[2]

PIZZA IS A VEGETABLE

As if the food itself could get any bleaker, its regulation is even worse: There almost is none. Minimum requirements are set for nutrients and calories, but there actually is no maximum. And since preparation is a free-for-all, anything goes: French fries—fried and batter-coated—are classified as not just as a vegetable, but a fresh vegetable. [3] It’s a trend: In November 2011, an agriculture appropriations bill was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress that blocked a proposed change to school lunch regulations that would have cancelled the stipulation that 1/8 cup of tomato paste has an equivalent nutritional value as 1/2 cup of vegetables. Critics say that Congress blocked the change on behalf of lobbyists representing pizza and cheese manufacturers, because, if passed, schools would have no longer been able to credit pizza with its former nutritional value.[4]

All this so far has been about foods available within school meal programs. But there are no national standards for anything outside of those programs—including vending machine snacks and a la carte choices. With food quality so low, it’s no wonder why students turn to the “foods” offered by vending machines—which are often given to schools for free.[2]

RULES AND FUNDING

The food guide pyramid didn’t just materialize. It is a product of special interests fighting it out. The beef industry, for example wouldn’t let the USDA say “eat less meat;” now, we are recommended to eat more “lean meats.” It’s no accident that dairy is its own food group, either, despite the many other higher-calcium sources and widespread lactose-intolerance.  The Harvard School of Public Health says that, “According to federal regulations, the panel that writes the dietary guidelines must include nutrition experts who are leaders in pediatrics, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and public health. Selecting the panelists is no easy task, and is subject to intense lobbying from organizations such as the National Dairy Council, United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Soft Drink Association, American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Wheat Foods Council.”[2]

Today, over ten different lunch programs under federal and state regulation each operate on overlapping turf. To meet the requirements of each takes an immense amount of time and money, pushing the management of what we eat towards food contractors.[5]

For example, according to a recent study conducted by the GAO, six different programs—the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Special Milk Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program—are managed under rules that “often require applicants who seek assistance from multiple programs to submit separate applications for each program and provide similar information verifying, for example, household income.”[6] This overlap is good for companies that each have their own monopoly on a separate section of the student’s diet. It’s not good for the students who have to eat it.


 CORPORATE MODEL: STANDARDIZED TESTING–short measuring sticks and No Child Left Behind

under construction

THE FUTURE: STUDENT DEBT–capitalizing on what’s to come

under construction

SOURCES:

CHARTER SCHOOLS:


[1] From the NEA’s Policy on Charter Schools: http://www.nea.org/home/16332.htm

[2] “An Explosion in Lobbying around K-12 Programs” Dana Goldstein for The Nation. November 17, 2011.

[3] “Charter Schools—Good for Students or Corporate Greed?” Annabel Lee. Double Dip Politics: http://doubledippolitics.com/2011/11/23/charter-schools-good-for-students-or-corporate-greed/. November 23, 2011.

[4] “Executive Summary–Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program: Final Report”. US Department of Education. November 19, 2004.

CLASS: under construction

LUNCH:


[1] “Digging Deep Through School Trash.” Madalyn Cioci and Tim Farnan. 2010. http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/view-document.html?gid=14235

[2] “No Lunch Left Behind.” Alice Waters for the New York Times, February 19, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/opinion/20waters.html

[3] Andrew Martin on NPR,  June 15, 2004. Talk of the Nation. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1958611

[4] “Pizza is a vegetable? Congress says yes.” Mary Clare Jalonick. MSN News. November 15, 2011. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45306416/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/pizza-vegetable-congress-says-yes/#.TxxS6CP6Pcg

[5] “Schools aren’t underfunded—They’re funding the wrong things.” Annabel Lee, Double Dip Politics. November 21, 2011. http://doubledippolitics.com/2011/11/21/schools-arent-underfunded-theyre-funding-the-wrong-things/

[6] “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue.” US Government Accountability Office; Social Services. http://www.gao.gov/ereport/GAO-11-318SP/data_center/Social_services/Actions_needed_to_reduce_administrative_overlap_among_domestic_food_assistance_programs#2

CORPORATE MODEL:

under construction

THE FUTURE:

under construction



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