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Desperation Deepens for School Districts

In the face of financial woes not seen since the Great Depression, school districts are resorting to unprecedented practices to stay solvent. I've written before about how some districts allow corporations to place their advertisements on campuses for a fee. The latest move, however, makes such tactics seem insignificant. It involves putting school buildings on the market to raise cash ("School District Bets Future on Real Estate," The New York Times, Sept. 5).

Realizing that it had no other viable alternative, Gervais, an Oregon farm community located an hour south of Portland, bit the bullet and put three of five school buildings up for sale. Proceeds from the sale are earmarked for new classrooms. Centralized efficiencies are expected to save teaching positions and restore art programs. The district also hopes that a $4.2 million bond measure on the November ballot will pass.

What's so disturbing is that school districts are being forced to sell off assets in order to stay afloat. I'm not talking about cutting frills. Instead, I'm referring to providing basic education, which all state constitutions guarantee in one form or another. As tiny as Gervais is, it could be a harbinger. Business groups already contribute at least $4 billion per year to help public schools ("When Schools Depend on Handouts," The New York Times, Aug. 25, 2011). At first glance, this aid seems to be a blessing because it appears to be pure philanthropy.

But I see the trend as the beginning of the end of public education in this country as we have come to know it. That's because funding always has strings attached. The curriculum will be altered to satisfy the needs of corporations, regardless of their application to students. We're already seeing evidence of the clout that big money from the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation exerts. But I think it is nothing compared to what lies ahead. "The imperious overreaching of the Big Three undermines democracy just as surely as it damages public education" ("Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools," Dissent, Winter 2011).

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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