The notion that what Gov. Scott Walker proposes in his state budget — at the behest of his out-of-state political paymasters — should be called “education reform” is absurd.
The point is not to reform public education, and certainly not to improve it. The point is to deform public education — to cut, to weaken, to undermine the public schools so thoroughly that they are no longer the pride of Wisconsin. Once this is done, the space will be cleared for the school-privatization schemes that so excite Walker and his allies.
Speaking of the governor’s plan to divert dramatically more state money into a troubled private-school voucher program, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said that what Walker is proposing is “literally crumbs for public schools and unlimited increases for voucher schools.”
Of the governor’s plan, Barca said: "It’s taking us in a direction that is extremely harmful.”
This is the reality that gets lost when language is mangled by political spin doctors, who are paid to come up with pretty ways to say ugly things.
Wisconsin’s progressive tradition has always embraced sincere and necessary reform. That’s why Walker’s billionaire-funded spin campaign appropriates the word.
But, make no mistake, any “education reform” that shifts tax dollars away from public schools in order to fund private academies is not sincere and necessary reform. It is an attempt to fool some of the people some of the time with a promise of “reform” that will hurt students and communities.
Rural schools will be hit hardest, as the narrow margins on which they survive will be eliminated. Slowly but surely the promise of public education will be so weakened that rural and small-town schools will begin to consolidate and close. This is a given. But it will not be the end of the education crisis that Walker’s “reforms” promise.
Eventually, urban schools will also take the hit; and then will suburban schools will begin to struggle.
As this happens, the downward spiral will accelerate. Wisconsin will slide down national rankings for educational achievement. This will lead businesses to give up on the state, as out-of-state firms avoid an educational wasteland and head toward neighboring states (such as Minnesota) that are investing in public schools. In time, even Wisconsin-based firms will start to give up on the state and expand elsewhere.
Only those who are peddling “education reform” spin, and those who for a time fall for it, will believe that any good could come of what Walker proposes.
The point of real reform is not to dismantle and destroy, it is to improve.
There will be no improvements with Walker’s proposal.
There will be nothing but decay and decline.
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