Don't sell off O.C. public schools to private interests

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

For generations, California’s public school system has served as a great equalizer in our society, educating the children of our state and preparing them for college or a trade. Once the battle to desegregate our schools in Orange County was won in 1948 by the Mendez v. Westminster decision, California’s public schools went on to become the envy of the nation. The idea that education was a primary duty of government under the supervision of locally elected school boards was firmly established.

Almost 70 years later, that principle is now at risk as parts of our public school system are now essentially up for sale to special interests.

Using California’s Parent Trigger Law, concerned and well-meaning parents have the ability to literally take over public property – school buildings, facilities and equipment – and turn them over to a private entity, which is far too often backed by corporate special interests. The result? Private schools built, financed and operated with public tax dollars and often with little or no accountability.

Palm Lane Elementary School in the Anaheim City School District is the next potential casualty of attempts by corporate interests to privatize the schools.

Palm Lane, like many schools, is, indeed, struggling. And the working-class families who send their children there have every right to demand a quality education.

Those parents are looking for answers at a time when the state’s once great public school system is suffering from decades of underfunding and neglect. But unfortunately, corporate special interests have seized the moment to advance their own agenda by selling parents on handing over control of public schools instead of investing in our children by improving them.

Studies show that children who are properly fed and have medical and dental care do much better in school than those who don’t. Denying economic justice to Palm Lane families while at the same time purporting to support K-12 education in their communities only makes sense if the goal is profit, and not helping kids.

All too often, charter school proponents promise parents improved academic performance and lower costs that never materialize. And in reality, allowing corporate-backed charter schools to drain resources from public education erodes the educational foundation in all our communities. Education isn’t a commodity. It’s a core mission of democratically elected government, not private vendors.

Thankfully, school board members in Anaheim recognize this risk and have appealed a Superior Court judge’s ruling that could pave the way for Palm Lane to be handed over to a private entity.

We must address issues affecting our public schools, and to do that, we must reconcile our stated support for education with our shamefully low per-pupil spending. California currently ranks 48 of 50 states, and we should do better. This is why schools in working-class communities like Palm Lane are struggling.

But the solution is not selling off our public schools – it’s standing together to work to restore California’s tradition of a public school system that was once the envy of the country.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: December 4, 2015