I devoted a fair amount of my academic research to the issue of privatization, and I largely agree with the periodic analyses on the “In the Public Interest” website.
Confounding the issue is the fact that what Americans call “privatizing,” is really something quite different: contracting out.
Margaret Thatcher privatized many of her country’s industries–she sold them off to private-sector operators, who then owned them and paid taxes (and in some cases went bankrupt and out of business). In the U.S., by contrast, we “privatize” by encouraging government agencies to contract with for-profit and non-profit organizations to manage government programs.
In other words, a program that government is obligated to provide continues to be paid for with tax dollars, and government remains responsible for ensuring that it is operated in a manner that’s consistent with the Constitution, the terms of the contract, and (ideally, at least) the public interest.
My research convinced me of three things: 1) while contracting may be appropriate under some circumstances, it is not the panacea that so many politicians seem to think. Sometimes it makes sense, often it doesn’t. 2) the cost savings that are touted by privatization advocates are largely mythical, the result of omitting what it costs government to manage these contracts–or the even greater costs of failing to manage them. And 3) far from shrinking the size of government, as proponents seem to believe, contracting actually expands both the size and scope of government, while at the same time making that expansion less visible and government less accountable.
Bottom line: contracting out doesn’t usually save money, and the ability of government to monitor those with whom it contracts has proved to be less than ideal, to put it mildly.
Also, in far too many situations, contracting has become the new patronage.
I have written pretty extensively about the issues involved, including Indianapolis’ unfortunate flirtation with “privatizing” under former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.
Years of research have taken much of the bloom off the privatization rose, but of course, as readers of this blog are well aware, there is one area in which proponents stubbornly continue to insist upon benefits that have proved imaginary, while studiously ignoring numerous and troubling negative consequences.
That area is public education.
“Florida Man” DeSantis isn’t the only ideologue pushing a voucher program, but an article in the linked website revolved around a set of concerns explored by a Florida newspaper :
With Tallahassee “poised to bleed billions from public classrooms through a sweeping expansion of private school vouchers,” The Sun Sentinel lays out some of the problems this will bring:
If a private school wants to teach children that Jesus rode dinosaurs and call it geography, the state has no say.
If a private school wants to expel an honor-roll child for being gay, that child is out of luck.
If a private school wants to teach students in a building rife with code violations, students will just need to bring buckets on rainy days. Or fire extinguishers.
If a private school wants to hire teachers with a criminal background, or teachers repeatedly fired from previous jobs, or teachers who have no training in teaching, who in the state has the authority to stop them?
If a private school abruptly closes mid-year, who takes care of the students?
The answer? No one.
These are not scenarios limited to Florida. You can find troubling examples of each of them in existing voucher programs in Indiana and elsewhere.
Most of us understand–and budget numbers confirm– that voucher programs bleed dollars from public schools that need those resources.
I don’t know about Jesus riding a dinosaur, but multiple investigations of private religious schools accepting vouchers have found creationism substituted for science instruction. Many of those same schools proudly and publicly decline to accept gay students, or even non-gay students who have two mommies or two daddies.
In Ohio a few years ago, David Brennan, a politically well-connected businessman, opened a chain of schools in order to profit from that state’s then-new voucher program; students didn’t learn much, and several of the schools were found to have multiple, dangerous code violations.
In Indiana, we’ve had voucher schools that suddenly closed, leaving parents and students high and dry.
Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but there was a reason Americans established public schools. Public schools are intended to teach more than “reading, writing and arithmetic.” They are intended to create informed and engaged citizens–to advance e pluribus unum by pursuing what is termed the civic mission of the schools.
Heedless of the educational failures and lack of accountability, the World’s Worst Legislature is planning to expand Indiana’s already out-of-control school privatization. No wonder Indiana ranks 43d in the percentage of citizens with bachelor’s degrees–and worse, lacks legislators having common sense.