While nine out of ten K–12 students attend our public schools, too few Americans know a lot about those schools. And too few grasp the seriousness of clericalists’ and privatizers’ growing attacks on them. Much of this reflects the poor job that media, print and broadcast, have done in reporting on school matters (aside from headline-grabbing school shootings). Most of the rest reflects the Right’s unending propaganda campaigns against public schools and for privatization. Let’s shed some light on the situation.
Public education in America is really a big deal. More than 50,000,000 of our kids attend public schools. The whole enterprise costs state, local, and national taxpayers more than $500 billion per year. Over 90 percent of the funding comes from state and local taxes; less than 10 percent comes from the federal government for special programs. Public schools employ more than three million teachers, plus administrators, secretaries, counselors, librarians, nurses, food handlers, janitors, crossing guards, security guards, and drivers of all those big yellow school buses that transport about half of the kids.
The term “government schools” is tossed around by those attacking public education to obscure the fact that our public education enterprise actually comprises over 13,500 local school districts, nearly all of them responsible to school boards elected by local voters and parents. But it seems that our schools are far too often just taken for granted—like fire departments, highways, Social Security, and Medicare. Voter turnout for school board elections tends to be low.