Why School Reform is an Irresistible Strategy of Urban Development for Economic Elites

By Mark Naison

In virtually every urban center in the nation, there is a concerted effort, supported by a cross section of the business community, to dismantle urban public schools and replace them with charter schools. A full court press of this kind is taking place in Buffalo New York, Memphis Tennessee, Camden New Jersey, Little Rock Arkansas and literally scores of other small and medium size cities.

Why is this taking place, often accompanied by a campaign of demonization directed at teachers and teachers unions?

The answer is actually simple. Money.

There are huge profits to be made, in the short run and long run, by dismantling urban public schools, and replacing them with charters Here is a summary of the ways elites gain from privatizing urban public school systems

1, Tax credits gained from investing in charter schools Federal tax codes allow a 39% tax credit for investing in a new charter school, allowing investors to recoup their initial investment in 7 years and begin registering profits.

2. Real estate speculation. Closing long established public schools destabilizes poor and working class neighborhoods and pushes residents into suburbs or the outskirts of cities, allowing real estate investors to buy up existing properties at bargain rates and build market level units that attract a far wealthier clientele. You can see this kind of investment in several New York, Chicago and Washington neighborhoods where public schools have been replaced by charters and it it starting to occur in small cities as well

3.Creating of consulting firms which get lucrative state contracts to “turn around” failing schools and school districts, or provide professional development services to newly created charters. There are actually now programs in “Educational Entrepreneurship” at major universities which train you how to do just that.

4. Creation of for profit charter schools or on line schools to replace public schools, a phenomenon which has taken off in Florida, but is about to spread to many other states.

5. Weakening worker bargaining power in the private sector by destroying a key union in the public sector. One of the best ways to keep wages low is to weaken the labor movement as a whole, both as a bargaining agent and a political force, and attacks on teacher unions are key to weakening organized labor’s power in urban centers.

If you look at what economic elites have to gain from destroying urban public schools, you can see why the attack is so widespread and so ferocious. And it will require a far more broad based and militant resistance than we have seen thus far to prevent this effort from succeeding

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