Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
(This post was originally published on October 23rd, 2017.)
Free public schooling is one of the best institutions for a civilization. It allows for everyone to have an opportunity to learn and advance as a civilization. It can allow kids to reach their full potentials as students and as professionals using the values and lessons they pick up during this time. Even if there can be problems with the institution of public schools, the fact that we even have this opportunity to get an education free of charge for grades k-12 is very cool. However, we are also facing a funding crisis in schools (Washington Post). As of 2014, it had been reported that most states have had stagnant or declining funding levels. These problems are worse in places with higher poverty levels. One way that schools have been getting money from elsewhere is through Bill Gates and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Washington Post).
As of 2017, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to invest 1.7 billion dollars into public schools (Washington Post). This would not be the first time Gates would invest into the public school system; he has already put in $3.4 billion dollars. Gates’ intentions are noble enough; in an address, he said, “Every student should get a great public education and graduate with skills to succeed in the marketplace.” However, this money did not come without a price tag. Part of this funding came with efforts to develop initiatives such as the Common Core (a government program that standardizes education across all states), support charter schools, and break up large high schools into smaller ones. Gates claims that this newest batch of money and its purpose will be more open ended in that while the strategy to develop education will be left up to the educators, their applications will still have to be approved for these cash donations.
While Bill Gates does seem to have his heart in the right place, it can be a bit disconcerting to see that a private entity is attempting to affect a public institution. Gates has spent money towards initiatives and development that he is in favor of, including the Common Core (Washington Post). However, according to a poll in 2015, 54% of the adults surveyed were against the Common Core (EdSource). The difficulty here is that while one may have their own opinions regarding the merits or lack thereof of the Common Core, it does not seem right for a private entity to be making these decisions and pushing an agenda without a more democratic due process. Even this new set of funding still allows Gates to push an agenda. If the foundation does not approve of the strategies set out by an applying school, then the foundation could easily not send any money over until the school changes its tactics into something more favorable (even if it is less effective). It is important to note that part of the reason that the Gates Foundation is able to have this much power over the education system is that schools are currently strapped for cash. The foundation is simply using a path to make its voice heard by making a trade: enacting what the foundation thinks is the right way towards education development for a resource schools desperately need: money.
Perhaps this is a time for self-reflection and the values we put towards schooling in regard to government. If one is not comfortable with a private entity being able to interfere with the development of public institutions using exorbitant needed donations, then we must also be prepared to make sacrifices either through budgeting or raising taxes. Public school is an important institution for us as a civilization, and we must try our best to preserve and work to improve it while also reflecting on how we are developing it and who is working to develop it.