This is a key point to raise, and suggests very significant shifts in the governing arrangements being put into place under the guise of “school reform”. Privatization is not simply about making money; it is about reshaping public and private boundaries, privatizing not only the “provision of service” but also the governing process itself. (Baker also contributed to this recent report on charter school expenditures.)
After pointing out that charter schools “are limited public access in the sense that:
- They can define the number of enrollment slots they wish to make available
- They can admit students only on an annual basis and do not have to take students mid-year
- They can set academic, behavior and cultural standards that promote exclusion of students via attrition
While these conditions may vary and/or be restricted under state policies, Baker offers this:
Imagine a community park, for example, that is paid for with tax dollars collected by all taxpayers in the community, and managed by a private board of directors. That board has determined that the park may reasonably serve only 100 of the community’s 1,000 residents. The amount of tax levied is adjusted for the park’s capacity. To determine who gets to use the park annually, interested residents subscribe to a lottery, where 100 are chosen each year. Others continue to pay the tax whether chosen for park access or not. The park has a big fence around it, and only those granted access through the lottery may gain entrance. Imagine also that each of the 100 lottery winners must sign a code of conduct to be unilaterally enforced by the private manager of the park. That management firm can establish its own procedures (or essentially have none) for determining who has or has not abided by the code of conduct and revoke access privileges unilaterally. This is clearly not a PUBLIC park in the way that scholars such as Paul Samuelson describe public goods.