The Horace Mann League honored Carol Burris as the Outstanding Friend of Public Education of the year. The award was presented by the distinguished research scientist David Berliner.

Burris, who has has a long career as a teacher and much-honored principal in Rockville Center, Long Island, New York, released her notes. 

She said:

“Thank you, David, for your kind remarks. And to all, thank you so much for this wonderful honor. To receive an award in Horace Mann’s name—well no award could be more treasured. I am thrilled. I also deeply appreciate the opportunity to speak to all of you today.

“I am often asked if I am afraid for the future of public education. No, I am not afraid. Fear is an inadequate descriptor. I am terrified. Here is why.

“Earlier this month, at the American Enterprise Institute this is how Jeb Bush defined public school districts.:

“12 or 13,000 government-run, unionized, politicized, monopolies. “We call them school districts,” he said.

“When I hear someone define a system of community schools, governed by unpaid volunteers elected by their neighbors as a “government-run, unionized, politicized, monopolies”– there is one thing I know for sure about the speaker—he does not want to improve that system, he does not want to compete with that system, he wants to destroy it.

“This is a summary of the state of school privatization in the United States today:

*15 states have voucher programs, some have several that cater to different student groups.
*6 states have Education Savings Accounts. New Hampshire will likely approve an ESA program within months, bringing the total to seven.
*18 states have tax tuition credit/scholarship programs. Many of these programs give a 100% credit to businesses for donations to scholarships for private schools which makes them a pass-through of public funds to private schools. Some allow the donations to become profitable when they are also deducted on federal returns.
*9 states have individual tax credits and deductions for private school tuition.
*44 states allow charter schools. Of those 44, only 4 vest full authority to the district.
*4 states allow for-profit charters, and 36 states all for-profit management to run the nonprofit charter schools.
*36 states allow virtual online charter schools, nearly all of which are for-profit.

“Of all of the various school privatization schemes, Educational Savings Accounts are in my opinion, the worst. They have become the preferred program of the Koch Brothers, the Goldwater Institute, the Friedman Foundation, Jeb Bush and others. ESAs are at their essence a cynical ploy that reduces society’s obligation to educate our nation’s youth to the dropping of tax dollars onto a debit card

“6 states have ESAs: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Nevada. Nevada’s program is non-operational and unfunded. Last year, more than 20 state legislatures introduced ESA bills, with the proposed programs nearly always going by a different name. For example, ESAs are called Gardiner Scholarships in Florida, Individualized Education Accounts in Tennessee and Empowerment Scholarships in Arizona. Despite the different names, intended to hide, the joint effort by ALEC to promote the same basic bill, they operate in similar ways.

“Parents pledge to not enroll their son or daughter in a public school or a charter school. In exchange, they get nearly all of what the public school would have spent (usually 90%) placed on a debit card or in an account. This unaccountable and unregulated system is one in which families could easily be victimized by misinformation, false claims, profiteering and fraud. This is not lost on the proponents of ESAs. That is why they have developed all kinds of language to make ESAs seem hip and cutting edge. For example, parents are called “customizers” who choose “a la carte services” that they can select from online marketplaces. What they are really advocating, however, is a return to a time prior to the 1830s when schooling was a haphazard event for all but the wealthy.

“We are in this moment at a critical junction. There are states that are reaching a privatization tipping point from which they will not be able to recover. School districts in Indiana are shutting down—Muncie is about to be taken over by Ball State University which will turn all of its schools to charter schools. There are places where the only options that kids have are charter schools and voucher schools—schools that open and close. In Indiana, charters are shut after years of dismal performance only to be resurrected as voucher schools.

“We need to have the moral courage to say this is not OK.

“I am horrified every time I hear a superintendent say—I am not afraid of competition. Just give me a level playing field. If you want competition on a level playing field, join a hockey team.

“Your professional and ethical obligation is to provide the best and most equitable opportunities your community can afford to give kids. Competition for students will inevitably result in decisions not in the best interest of all kids. I have seen that happen time and again.

“You must assume your authority based on your expertise and your experience.

“No, parents do not always know best when it comes to designing a sound education for their children. Your expertise is critical when it comes determining a child’s educational needs. Doctors do not hand over their prescription pads to parents to prescribe what they want. The police do not allow parents to serve alcohol and drugs to their minor children and their friends in their basements. Children are not chattel. It takes a village to raise a child, not an online shopping cart.

“We commonly fund our schools because we all have a stake in doing the best we can to make sure we have physically and emotionally healthy, well-educated citizens. The era of reform is NOW the status quo. The results are in…. Students do no better in charter schools than public schools, they do worse in voucher schools and online schools are a dismal failure by any measure except profit.

“As superintendents, you have a bully pulpit. Speak truth to your community. Speak truth to your legislators. Don’t let Horace down on your watch. Thank you.”