Last week State Rep Andrew Brenner published an article titled “Public education in America is socialism, what is the solution?” on his wife’s Brenner Brief blog. Brenner opened his article quoting the definition of socialism from Wikipedia, explained how this applies to public schools, and then went on to offer his solution to “the problem.” “We need to do something that was done about 25 years ago in the former Soviet Union and eastern bloc,” Brenner wrote. “Sell off the existing buildings, equipment and real estate to those in the private sector. ”
Brenner argued that we need to “privatize everything”. (Since Brenner seems to be such a fan of Wikipedia, we’d highly recommend he check out the entries for Privatization in Russia and Russian Oligarch to see how well that scheme worked out for every day Russians.)
Needless to say, Brenner, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, caught a lot of flack for the piece, including an editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that came awfully close to calling for Brenner’s removal from the committee.
Brenner responded to the criticism of his 850 word “socialism” piece with a new, 2000 word follow-up article titled “Tackling public education reform: thinking outside the box”. He claims the new article was intended to clarify his earlier piece, but this hard-to-follow, 21 paragraph screed does nothing of the sort. Not does it really provide any real “outside the box” thinking. Instead it jumps around from taxes to prison ministries to Common Core testing to Milton Friedman and back again.
The only moment of semi-clarity seems to come when Brenner discusses suburban vs. urban school districts. And it’s here that we realize that Brenner’s main complaint about Ohio’s public system of schools isn’t really related to education at all. It’s about taxes. Specifically state income taxes that he and his rich Delaware County neighbors pay; taxes that are “redistributed” to schools in urban areas that don’t perform as well as his suburban schools.
“Taxpayers in the suburban school districts have had it with subsidizing failed urban schools,” writes Brenner. “We can no longer afford to increase our taxes so that we can have them redistributed to failed schools.”
And why do children in his school district score better than kids in, say Columbus or Cleveland? “The parents in my district … help their children,” Brenner argues. “…in the poor and failing districts, parents may not even be around.”
Ah! Got it. It’s all clear now. Andrew and his wife (who have no kids) don’t want to have their state income taxes “redistributed” to help educate poor, inner city kids whose parents are probably on drugs and in jail anyway.
And why are these city kids not getting the education they deserve? Brenner knows the answer to that one too: the Bible and corporal punishment:
“Lawsuits ended paddling. The Bible, used by millions of Americans as a moral compass, was removed from public classrooms almost three generations ago. Drugs, violence, and gangs are the new morality in many public schools.”
So now we know why Brenner wants to change the education system in Ohio: because he’s sick of paying income taxes to help poor kids who don’t perform well on standardized tests. And we know what Brenner thinks is the problem with our city schools: absentee parents and a lack of bibles and paddling have resulted in a student population consisting primarily of drug dealing gang bangers. But what does Brenner think we do to solve the problem?
It here’s where Brenner tries to backtrack on his earlier comments about selling off everything to would-be Oligarchs. “In Ohio, school buildings that have been shut down should be sold off. Charter schools could possibly open when public schools have failed,” writes Brenner. “This is the comparison to Russia that I made previously that so many misunderstood.”
Oh, how silly of us. When he wrote “privatize everything” in his earlier article, we should have known he only meant we should sell off school buildings that have been closed. You know, like they sold off all the oil and steel companies in Russia to the private sector – but only the closed ones.
Brenner also makes some references to online learning and even to “deregulation” – freeing schools from state and federal regulations and guidelines – even though he argued in favor of standardized, state-wide testing a few paragraphs earlier. But ultimately, he doesn’t propose anything that Republicans haven’t been trying for years. State law, for example, already requires school systems to give preference to start-up charter schools when selling off closed buildings or any other property over $10,000. And it hasn’t helped. Both electronic and brick-and-mortar charter schools continue to perform much worse than traditional public schools.
At least Brenner’s initial article, while naive and ill-conceived, was bold. This latest piece is just a mishmash of rehashed, disproved school “reform” ideas, a dash of selfish Republican tax rhetoric and some good, old-fashioned stereotyping of inner-city families.
If Brenner is sincerely concerned about Ohio’s children and the low test scores of children living in urban neighborhoods, then we highly suggest he follow the advice the PD’s editors gave him: “He should visit several struggling public schools in Northeast Ohio, talk to parents, teachers, and principals and find out what they really need. We’ll bet that privatizing the system is pretty low on their list.”
“In short, instead of name-calling, Brenner should consider how he might give universal, free public education a helping hand.”