Today’s fee frenzy is a race to nowhere.
Public education used to be, you know, public — an essential societal investment for the betterment of all, paid for by all through school taxes.
In addition to privatization schemes to turn education over to corporate profiteers, public schools themselves have steadily been shifting from free education toward what amounts to fee education. This is a product of the budget slashing frenzy imposed on our schools in the past 15 years or so by the convergence of Koch-headed, anti-public ideologues and unimaginative, acquiescent education officials.
Beset by tight budgets, too many school systems are accommodating the slashers by shifting the cost of educating America’s future from the general society to the parents of students who are presently enrolled.
Does your child want to play a sport, take a class trip to a museum, or participate in a debate tournament? Pay a fee. Do your kids want to take art, music, drama, or other arts classes? Pay a fee. Does your school make kids wear uniforms? Pay a fee.
And now comes a new level of monetizing public education — the ubiquitous yellow school bus. Yes, just getting to and from school is increasingly being treated not as a necessary public service, but as a private luxury to be billed to families with school-age students.
Districts in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and elsewhere are charging up to $600 a year per child. For the poor and the downwardly-mobile middle class that’s a real hit — yet another barrier to educational access for America’s majority. What’s next — a daily debit-card deduction for kids to enter their classroom at public schools?
If our society won’t even pay for bus rides, how are we going to get to the future we want for our children? It’s time to reject the small-minded budget slashers, reinvest fully in public education, and get America moving again.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown www.OtherWords.org.