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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4499/new-york-public-schools-privatized-by-default/

New York Public Schools, privatized by default?

December 30, 2005 by

In an interesting turn, the public schools of New York have become the beneficiaries of fashionable philanthropy dollars. Reports the NYTimes “New money or old, donors have been enthusiastic enough to write seven- and eight-figure checks. As a result, the school system has been the largest beneficiary in a mayoralty that has reached to the private sector, strategically and aggressively, for all sorts of support….While Mr. Bloomberg’s personal philanthropy has turned sharply toward grass-roots organizations in recent years, with the obvious political benefits, the donations by his friends and acquaintances in the clubby world of wealthy philanthropists have turned just as markedly toward the mayor’s No. 1 priority: public education.”

This might be looked at as a form of de facto privatization, a huge waste of otherwise valuable philanthropic efforts, or a devastating indictment of the public system that can neither fund or manage itself. Interesting that none of these points seem to be noticed by those commenting on the trend.


Wesley Baker December 30, 2005 at 9:58 am

Anyone who has attended NYC philanthropic galas can attest that the reason for and destination of donations comes last in social priority. The important thing is to be seen and to be seen with… insert the most ambitious social butterfly. After the Cinderella hour has past, one or one’s company commercialises the donation through prominent billboards and newspapers, etc., etc.

Why are so many charities headquartered in NYC? It’s not because of the cheap rents or convenient transportation. There’s stupid money to be made on the northeast charity circuit.

It looks like government, generally the idea runt, has finally found the hind teat of a huge cash cow.

William December 30, 2005 at 10:25 am

The sad part is that the bureaucracy will adjust to this money and when the donors give their money to the next charity of choice the NYC School District will be asking for a tax raise.

It is easier to get more money in taxes than reduce expenditures or ask for donations.

Jim Waddell December 30, 2005 at 11:07 am

Of course I would like to see the complete abolishment of pubic education – but that will not happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I think something like this could be a pratical first step towards privatization as Mr. Tucker suggests. Also key would be trying to get a requirement for some type of tuition fee for each student. Anything would do, even if it were well below full-cost recovery. Then private donations could step in and help the truly needy pay their tuition. This would at least help tilt the playing field a bit (back towards neutral, but not all the way), and give more people incentive to consider options other than the public schools.

Increasing the role of private funding also helps with the rhetorical/moral arguments. I can avoid being portrayed as a heartless curmudgeon who wants to deny children music, art, pencils, etc. On the contrary, I want our public school kids to have every single thing their parents desire….BUT, I want them to find *voluntary* sources of funding, rather than using coercion. So, we shift the debate from what programs to cut to where the funding comes from, and how might that funding be increased.

R.P. McCosker December 30, 2005 at 3:40 pm

To pick up on Wesley Baker’s and William’s comments, this is just another fad among Manhattan socialites. (Spurred by one of their numbers, Bloomberg, having become NYC’s top politician and putting his own money and reputation into the socialist school system.)

Not that these socialites give much thought to anything other than the making and spending of money and the prestige that comes with that, but the whole false presumption is that what makes schools work is lots of money. (Especially false in this case, as the money goes straight to government. Worse yet, urban government.)

Of course, as most reading here probably already know, lots of money does no such thing.

What would actually improve societal learning isn’t more spending on “educational institutions” but leaving learning to private property and free markets. Terms like “educational system”, “educational reform”, and “educational crisis” assume learning is somehow the government’s rightful domain. (Unsurprisingly, this “system” is always in “crisis”, much like the “agricultural system” in the old Soviet Union.)

Learning doesn’t need philanthropic assistance anymore than milk production or shoemaking or computer printers. It just needs freedom, without any government to muck things up.

Much as I appreciate Jim Waddell’s libertarian inclinations, I think he’s got the wrong idea here. The “system” can’t be reformed, or brought gradually to freedom. The whole political/bureaucratic system of government-owned schooling is arranged to coopt and subsume reforms aimed at privatization. While I agree that the cessation of “public education” won’t be happening soon, libertarian energy is better invested in sowing richly deserved doubts about the nature and functioning of government rather than false hopes for its improvement.

Curt Howland December 30, 2005 at 5:15 pm

I was reading _Heros Of History_ by Will Durant. Durant is a socialist in spades, which becomes clear when he’s describing recent events.

However, he does a good job of relating facts when talking about ancient history. His description of the philanthropy of the Greek city states *prior* to the outbreak of pure democracy is very insightful. “Public” works were done, exactly like Wesley Baker describes above, for exceedingly selfish reasons. The elite of the cities one-upped each other with their bridges, roads, “public” buildings, etc.

It was only after “democracy” took hold that a dictator had to be installed in order to clean up the horrendous mess. As McCosker states, reform is a waste of time. Abolition is the only “reform” that works.

Jim Waddell January 2, 2006 at 10:44 pm

I think I may have been misunderstood, mainly because I didn’t take the time and space to explain myself all that clearly.

I agree fully that “sowing richly deserved doubts” is necessary and important. But these seeds take a long time to grow. They will likely never bear fruit in my lifetime.

Too often, I find, libertarians focus only on strategic (i.e. long-term) solutions, and neglect tactical (short-term) ideas. I believe one must focus energy on both. We can all write essays for LRC and Mises until our fingers fall off. And we should. But most people have never heard of either site, and these essays will do little in the short term.

In the meantime, we should also think of ways to impede the immediate progress of the state, and turn it back if we can.

My ideas of 1) using private donations to fund public schools, and 2) charging tuition for public school attendance, are not meant to reform the schools themselves. The purpose is twofold: 1)get someone else to pay for public schools now, so I don’t have to, and 2)change the decision parents face. If parents had to pay at least some tuition, at the margin, more would leave the public schools. They would then be more likely to resist tax increases, and more likely to support tuition increases instead. Which would lead to more people leaving the public shools. Start a stampede – that’s the idea. Mr. Howland states that “aboltion is the only reform that works”, but abolition will not happen by itself. Nor will it happen solely by writing essays which the average person will never read. Abolition needs to be helped along.

These two ideas may not be the best short-term ideas. They may even be horrible – I’ll gladly accept criticism of them. But what I’d rather hear are BETTER IDEAS, if anyone has any.

At this point, in my city, we have very limited options for fighting school tax increases. We can vote for board members who we think, just maybe, might spend a little less than the other one. We can vote against levys, knowing that most will vote for them. And we can attend annual meetings to complain, knowing that they are largely venting sessions, and we will be largely ignored.

I am looking for better options. Got any ideas?

Yancey Ward January 4, 2006 at 2:28 pm

If the donors gave the money to private institutions, then it might do some good, but giving it to the public schools is worse than making a bonfire out of it.

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