By Marc Jampole
For days, images of the Philadelphia public school system have haunted me. More than 30 children in one class share 11 math books. Bathrooms locked because there aren’t enough hall monitors. What’s most heartbreaking is to know that just a few miles away other school students attend some of the highest rated public and private schools in the nation, where they are lavished with cutting edge technology and enrichment opportunities.
Then there are the images of elected officials turning a deaf ear to the protests of the students, teachers and parents angered at the extreme cuts. And the image of the Philadelphia Board of Education voting to cancel the contract with the teachers’ union. Shame on the board and shame on everyone else who blames Pennsylvania’s and American’s crisis in public education on teachers or believe the solutions to the problem all involve taking money out of the pockets of these highly skilled professionals.
Most people agree that the immediate cause of the public school crisis in Philadelphia is the extreme cuts—50%!!—to public education enacted by Pennsylvania under right-wing Republic Governor Tom Corbett. These cuts have led to resource shortages, less enrichment and larger classes throughout Pennsylvania. According to polls, Corbett is going to pay at the polls for these Draconian cuts, his attempts to limit the voting franchise and his opposition to implementing the Affordable Care Act.
But all that means is Corbett will go back to some cushy job at a major law or lobbying firm. What about the tens of thousands of children who will receive inferior education because of his cuts?
The other thought that haunts my mind lately is a claim that I am unable to substantiate that a major nonprofit health institution in the western part of Pennsylvania makes job applicants pay the cost for background checks that are part of the hiring process. The checks cost $57.50 for a job paying $11.51 an hour, barely more than the purchasing power of the minimum wage in the 1960’s. I heard from several people I know that it is standard for some nonprofits to ask job applicants to pay for these security clearances.
I connect the charging of job applicants to the gutting of state support of public education. Both are little pieces of the wealth-and-income pie taken in the 35-year program to give a larger share to the rich folk and less to the poor and middle class.
The logic of cutting aid to public school makes perfect sense if you want to transfer wealth up the economic ladder. The cuts by definition will negatively affect teacher compensation, if for no other reason than it will increase the pool of teachers looking for jobs. The cuts will also make poor folk less able to climb the economic ladder because they will receive inferior education. Finally, it drives the middle class into private schools, translates into support of the education of the rich, who have always taken the private route. That’s maiming three birds with one stone, the glorious topper to which is that the money saved from harming public education goes directly to the wealthy without passing Go. Brilliant strategy!
Cutting public education may be brilliant class war strategy, but making people pay to apply for low-paying jobs is merely sadistic. The message is, “we have the job and we can do anything we want.” It equates to Lebron James spiking the ball in the face of a fifth-grader. Of course, anything to save a buck. That’s the excuse that Amazon.com gives for not paying its employees for the half hour it takes for each to go through the security screening process before and after work.
You would think that the extremity with which corporations and right-wing state governments are going would sicken the electorate. After all, 99% of us are not gaining from the continual grabbing by the wealthy of our government benefits and income. Now I know some vote with the right wing because of its 19th century views on women, gays and race. But all surveys suggest that number is decreasing rapidly in all parts of the country.
What I think drives the 99% away from the Democrats is that they aren’t much better than the Republicans. Massive contributions from billionaires and multinational corporations have colored the views of most Democrats on public education, tax policy and unionism. For six years now, President Obama has started negotiations on economic, taxation and budgetary matters by giving away the store, so eager has he been to make a deal—any kind of deal—with the factotums of the 1%.
It doesn’t help people trying to distinguish between Democrat and Republican that the Obama Administration continues to build on the Bush II security state and still uses bombing and troops as the primary tools of foreign policy—save the ending of the Bush II torture gulag.
Note how popular are the candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio who have articulated a progressive vision. But instead of following their lead, the Democratic Party in general is consolidating into a centrist position that resembles 1950’s Republicanism without the racism and sexism: in other words, more progress on social issues than economic ones.