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Closing Schools, Faulting Teachers


Officially, a budget shortfall for the Sacramento City Unified School District caused closure of seven elementary schools. Marcos Bretón, a columnist for The Sacramento Bee, weighed in with this: “I honestly don't believe that the district was driven by racial bias in closing schools months ago” http://www.sacbee.com/2013/07/14/5565087/marcos-breton-poor-sacramento.html 

Excellent in the column is recognition that the SCUSD schools in low-income neighborhoods are disastrously underfunded. Further, as Bretón notes, in low-income neighborhoods the police system does not work, the health system does not work, the garbage goes unpicked up, and water and sewage are problems, along with gangs. Why then, do we expect underfunded schools to work in such neighborhoods? 

When it comes to education policy and race, Bretón finds fault in the plaintiffs’ bid to establish legal proof of racial bias in school closures. A federal district judge, Kimberly J. Mueller, agreed on July 22 that the case of the plaintiffs lacked merit. 

When it comes to money and policy to close schools and save the district $1 million, we should put this amount in a broader context that Bretón does not. For instance, there is recent and relevant Sacramento history. 

Between January 19, 2012, and June 5, 2012, the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of retail giant Wal-Mart, donated a total of $500,000 to Stand Sacramento for Sacramento Schools, the 501(c) (3) nonprofit school reform group that Mayor Kevin Johnson founded in 2009 with $500,000 from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. In the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayor Kevin Johnson is the Second Vice-President and Education Reform Task Force Chair. 

Contacted by one of us for comment, a spokesperson for his Stand Sacramento for Sacramento Schools declined to reply as to how the group is spending the $500,000. We know one thing. Walton Family Foundation money is not bridging a budget gap to keep the closed district schools open. 

Private dollars flow. Public schools close. This trend speaks volumes about local public education now. 

We know another thing. When Bretón writes: “But the fact remains that these school closure battles are being fought in neighborhoods where people have the least political clout. It's public education today – a war over money, buildings and pensions,” he distracts rather than informs readers. 

How can this be? Consider money the Walton and Broad Foundations are funneling to groups such as Mayor Johnson’s education nonprofit as public school budgets shrink in a post-real estate crash policy of spending cuts. Outside Sacramento, public schools in low-income neighborhoods are closing in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and then re-opened as public charter schools that operate with taxpayer dollars. 

Bretón focus on the Sacramento City Unified School District’s future retiree health-care benefits of $500 million. Is that amount over 10 years, 20 years, 30 years in a $2 trillion California economy? He does not say. This is not helpful to readers. 

Bretón’s “blame the teachers” line faults them for what is beyond their control: the U.S. health-care system. Its high prices and thin coverage are e unlike what people have in other developed nations. 

Pushing up our medical prices are some drug companies’ patent monopolies that the government grants to them. This policy triggers health-care inflation, hiking by 1,000 percent or more the marginal, or production price of prescription medications. The pharmaceutical industry lobby may be in Washington DC corrupting Congress with dollars, but the impacts of drug prices that generate monopoly profits for pharmaceutical corporations are local. 

Why does Bretón focus on the role of money and public schools in a way that ignores the well-heeled interests in play? Sidestepping these actors that impact students and teachers in public education limits understanding of what is happening in the city district schools in Sacramento. This approach is part of a corporate media critique of public schools, as their budget woes grow and funds from billionaire philanthropies flow to education nonprofits.