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Obama’s Neoliberal Stance on Charter Schools


Of the last five presidents, Obama has clearly been the staunchest ally of the school privatization movement. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Our first black president has already clearly established his neoliberal credentials, in expanding Bush’s war on terror into Pakistan, Yemen and Libya and increasing his predecessor’s measly $700 billion in Wall Street bailouts to $12.5 trillion.

In addition to generous increases to charter school funding every year, the Obama administration also included a provision in the 2009 stimulus package forcing states to liberalize and/or expand their charter school programs or miss out in $100 billion in public school stimulus funding. Many states, which are already closing schools and laying off teachers, have a cap on charter school formation because they can’t afford further decreases in their public school budget. Many feel the failure of charter schools to improve achievement scores doesn’t justify establishing even more of them, given the additional cuts and sacrifices this would impose on public schools. Many, such as Ohio, have had serious problems (owing to lack of public oversight) with fraud and corruption in privately run charter schools. However, at present all states without legislation authorizing the formation of charter schools will have to pass it – and all those with funding caps will have to remove them – or miss out on badly needed stimulus funding.

Arne Duncan’s Record in Chicago

Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools to head the Dept of Education, suggests states will continue to be under enormous pressure to de-fund public schools – and that many more will close. While running Chicago schools, Duncan – in collaboration with Mayor Daley’s office and Chicago’s corporate elite – pursued an aggressive school privatization agenda. In 2004, this included an attempt to close 20 out of 22 schools in a low income minority neighborhood. The effort was clearly linked to the mayor’s and property developers efforts to “gentrify” the neighborhood – to force out minority residents and glam up their properties for re-sale to white upper middle class professionals. With all their neighborhood schools closing, low income residents would have no choice but to leave.

Fortunately militant protests by residents stopped the arbitrary school closures. However Duncan then preceded to implement a draconian decree under Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act ordering immediate closure (with no probationary period) of schools where students failed to pass standardized tests. Duncan also made it clear that these schools would immediately be turned over to private charter school operators funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates and WalMart family foundation).

Obama and Arne Duncan

Obama and Arne Duncan

The Role of the Corporate Media

It should also be no surprise that the corporate controlled media is beating the drums for the neoliberal agenda to privatize schools. As Danny Weil outlines in “Corporate School Hype and How It’s Managed,” NPR, CNN, PBS, 20/20 and Oprah Winfrey are all guilty of staging “informercials” promoting school privatization via the formation of charter schools as a solution to the “crisis” in public schools. No pro-public school advocates are invited to challenge the assertions presented, and there is no disclosure of ideological or financial (as in the case of controversial civil rights leader Al Sharpton) ties to right wing think tanks and school privatization proponents (see http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html).

Oprah with admirer

Oprah with admirer

*Danny Weil is the author of the groundbreaking 2009 expose The Charter School Movement. He has also published several eye opening chapters from the book in Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/weil08262009.html and Dissident Voice http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/11/neo-liberalism-the-leveraging-of-charter-schools-with-public-and-private-funds/

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