Neoliberal State Restructuring: Charter School Promoters Bypass Elected Governance and Impose Rule By Decree

While democracy has always been limited and restricted in societies based on the “free market” and private ownership, one of the main things detested by the pro-privatization fanatics behind segregated charter schools operated by unelected individuals are the long-standing duly-elected school boards that govern America’s 100,000 public schools. Publicly-elected school boards are a huge thorn in the side of the millionaires and billionaires behind deregulated charter schools.

Currently, many public school boards in America can exercise a certain degree of power and authority when it comes to approving or terminating a charter school’s contract. Indeed, many public school boards are increasingly saying no to more charter school applications and renewals given the big problems plaguing the charter school sector and the harmful effects charter schools have on public schools, the economy, society, and the national interest. It is clear that 30 years after they appeared in America, many are not on board with privately-operated charter schools that siphon enormous sums of money from public schools and generate poor results at many levels.

In Texas, Iowa, and elsewhere charter school promoters are working tirelessly with neoliberal state officials and legislators to bypass the elected boards that run public schools in order to replace them with entities that are answerable only to them. These entities are designed to circumvent the public authority enshrined in public school boards and typically consist of appointed individuals not accountable to the public. They usually take the form of “commissions,” “control boards,” “emergency financial managers,” “outside monitors,” or some reconfiguration of an existing government agency that significantly changes who decides what. In practice, these new entities give charter school corporations and non-educators more authority than the public, which makes it much easier to impose more charter schools on everyone.

To be sure, these supra-public entities more directly represent capital-centered interests and exclude public authority. Their power is set up to supersede the power of any public official or entity. The rich do not want individuals accountable to the public blocking the creation of new charter schools. This neoliberal strategy is not new but there is an escalation in efforts by the rich to reconfigure state power so as to impose privatization faster and with fewer “democratic obstacles.” To be clear, these top-down heavy-handed neoliberal entities are favored by charter school promoters because they (1) override public opinion, elected bodies, and democratic deliberations, (2) further concentrate power in the hands of charter school promoters, and (3) impose antisocial decisions on the polity with impunity. Objectively, they are a form of tyranny.

Charter school promoters know that there is stiff non-stop opposition to privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools. For this reason, they see rule by decree carried out by executive bodies unaccountable to the public as a pragmatic neoliberal mechanism to override persistent democratic objections to dismantling public education and privatizing schools. Decades of disinformation from charter school promoters has not succeeded in eliminating human social consciousness. From coast to coast, the problems with charter schools are being exposed more rapidly and thoroughly. Major owners of capital know that they cannot impose their narrow private interests on the public without some sort of coercive mechanism to do so.

More privatization necessarily requires less democracy. This applies to every sector of society and all levels of government. Privatization is wreaking havoc at home and abroad. And the antisocial “Great Reset” agenda of the international financial oligarchy promises even more privatization worldwide. Capital-centered interests and human-centered interests are antagonistic and cannot be harmonized. No one should believe that working people and owners of capital have the same interests. Objectively, major owners of capital and the public have opposing interests that cannot be reconciled. This point cannot be overstated.

In this context, human-centered interests must figure out how to oppose and overcome these and other neoliberal assaults on the public interest and public power. It is not acceptable for a handful of historically superfluous millionaires and billionaires to eliminate public right and impose their narrow will on everyone. Who thinks this is a good idea in the 21st century? The public has no interest in funding pay-the-rich schemes like privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools. A modern nation based on mass industrial production needs a large, organized, universal, public, free, world-class, integrated, fully-funded school system that serves everyone and is free of all private influences. There is no legitimate reason for any private actor, organization, or entity to have any access to public funds, resources, programs, and facilities that rightly belong to the public. The distinction between public and private should never be blurred.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.