Linda Lyon, retired Air Force Colonel and President of the Arizona School Boards Association, responds again to our reader Charles, who tried to convince her of the virtues of privatization.

She writes:

“Dear Charles,

You’ve obviously given a lot of thought to your position on school privatization. At 666 words, you covered a lot of ground. I do though, agree with some of your points.

Yes, children can be educated in a diversity of environments and yes, some rich liberals send their children to exclusive private schools. So do, rich conservatives. I believe that anyone has the right to send their child to any school they want, (provided the education is adequate), as long as they pay for it. When my tax dollars are paying for it, I want full accountability, transparency and to know the return on investment. Yes, legislation could be enacted to provide more accountability and transparency, but that isn’t the direction our state legislatures and now, the federal government are headed.

Yes, when the number of students in a school decrease, the fixed costs also eventually decrease. The problem is, the decrease happens over time and the costs are not scaled back with each student that leaves. That means remaining costs must be spread out over fewer students which means larger class sizes, outdated curriculum, older technology and buses and inadequately maintained facilities.

But, you start to lose me when you say that privatizing our schools will not reduce the size of our government. In Arizona alone, we have 60,000 public school teachers. These are government employees. If every public district school is outsourced, that would result in 60,000 fewer government jobs. The goal of the privatizers isn’t though, to save taxpayers money, or to produce better education for our children. In my opinion, it is to increase profits and reduce our ability to self-govern.

You also say you, “cannot fathom the connection between publicly-operated schools and our democratic republic.” Are you really serious? America’s system of public education, where all children are educated (not just the elite), played an important role in creating the greatest middle class in the world and was critical to making the American Dream possible. As for pointing to our current government leaders, (who you infer went to private schools), as proof of the superiority of that option, current events tell me that’s not a real strong argument.

You are correct that non-public (that would be private) schools do not have to accept all applicants. Therein lies the rub! Just as with our military, our public schools provide for the common good. That means, as John Dewey said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.” I believe the relentless effort to privatize our public schools reduces the opportunity for EVERY child to be all they can be. This ultimately robs our nation of potential and is in the end, unpatriotic.

Linda M. Lyon, Colonel (ret.), USAF”