A Final Thought

It's All About the Money

Many years ago, when I was on a school board, one of our members resigned and we were looking for someone to replace him. We turned to a well-respected person, a man who had served for several years as a village trustee, but had not sought re-election. We asked him to sit with us for six months until the next board election.

After thinking it over, he turned us down saying that serving on the village board with its mix of politics and values had been fulfilling and fun but that serving on a school board would be much more stressful: “You don’t play politics with children,” he said, “education is serious business.”

He was a wise man who understood that the partisan infighting of a village board did not belong in the education sector where the one and only consideration should be how a community could provide the best educational opportunities for its children within its means. We had plenty of disagreements when our school board met, but the focus was always on how what was proposed would affect children and their education.

I was reminded of his statement over the last few weeks as I looked at newspapers, television and the Internet and noticed the continuous intertwining of politics and education. Governors were weighing in on how to evaluate teachers, mayors were making decisions to close schools, parents, unable to get the ear of the politicians, were pulling their children out of standardized tests, teachers and parents were taking to the streets to be heard, teachers were organizing to defeat candidates for political office, and much more.

Education has been politicized, and important decisions affecting the future of our children, grandchildren and their children are being made in partisan political backrooms by governors, mayors and other people who have little or no knowledge of education. It’s a sad reflection on our nation and its priorities.

Certainly, our public school system has faults and problems, and they need to be addressed. But what motivates politicians to get involved is not an interest in children; they have no expertise in that area. What interests politicians is the amount of money that is spent on our educational systems and the fact that it has not been passing through their hands or those of their friends. Politicians want to get their hands on that money. Whatever words they may use, the bottom line is not the welfare of children. The bottom line is the bottom line: Money. That’s why standardized testing and charter schools are so often on their agendas.

High-stakes standardized tests are produced by big companies with millions of dollars to spend, often on behalf of candidates who will ensure that the testing mania grows despite complaints that teaching to the test robs children of educational and recreational time and sets up the false notion that the object of education should be to get the right answer, not to experiment, sometimes make mistakes and learn.

Study after study has shown that charter schools do not improve the education of children, and yet, from Alabama to New York, and many states in between, political leaders are introducing legislation for more and more charter schools. What makes them so popular, especially when it is known that they do nothing to improve the education of children? Follow the money. Owning a charter school means big money for the operators, big money that can, and often does, flow into the campaign funds of the politicians who support them.

The title of a symposium at the Harvard Club in New York City, “Bonds & Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools” puts it in perspective. The symposium suggests nothing about improving education. It suggests nothing about making schools better. Charter schools may or may not do that, but who cares? The important thing is that charter schools are a good investment, a way to make more money. That’s their lure for politicians.

When I was a youngster, New York City had a newspaper strike. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who had a regular Sunday morning radio program, was concerned about the effect of the newspaper strike on the children of his city. So, on that Sunday, instead of talking about policies and issues, he obtained a copy of the Sunday comic section (known as “the funnies”) and read them over the air. He did not want the children of his city to miss out on the latest adventures of Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers and the Yokum family. Maybe I’m an old cynic, but that’s the last time I remember a politician putting the needs and desires of children ahead of the money trail.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Paul Abramson is education industry analyst for SP&M and president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facilities consulting firm based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He was named CEPFI’s 2008 "Planner of the Year." He can be reached at intelled@aol.com.

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