Starving the Public Sector to Death

The basic idea behind  “starve the beast” politics was expressed by Grover Norquist “”My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”   What subtlety there is involves weakening the public sector to the point where it no longer functions as it should while building up the private sector.  Eventually, even people who like the public sector in theory find themselves frustrated with the current state of affairs and withdraw support.  The spiral goes from there, with less support the public sector gets weaker and weaker and weaker…. This is what is going on in Wisconsin.

A story in the Racine Journal Times today captured the plan in action.  The topic was the Committee on Joint Finance’s expansion  — in funding, geography and income eligibility —  of the private school voucher program.   The larger context was that same committee’s cuts to public education totaling between $800 million to $1.3 billion (depending on how you count it).  With at least one Racine parent, the plan is working.

Fabiola Diaz was glad to hear vouchers are moving forward. Diaz, 36, of Racine, has four children: One in a private high school, two in a Unified middle school and one too young for school.

She said she can barely afford to send her oldest child to the private school and would not be able to send her two middle schoolers to private high school without vouchers.

“I would really like all of them to have that opportunity,” said Diaz, an educator. “I don’t have anything against the school district, the public schools. It’s just that I feel with the budget cuts and things there’s going to be an even larger number of kids in the classrooms.

“In my experience, in a smaller school and smaller classroom my kids got more out of it and more attention from the teachers,” she said.

Such smaller class sizes should not be available only to families who can afford private school, Diaz said (emphasis added).

It sounds like she “gets it,” that she understands the opportunities all kids should have and sees that budget cuts have made it impossible for public schools to provide them.   What’s a parent to do?  Some of us fight to revitalize public education, to do our best to make sure that our kids and everybody’s kids have the opportunities to learn that they deserve.  Others have given up, they’ll take their voucher and hope for the best.  That’s the plan.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, Equity, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Scott Walker

3 responses to “Starving the Public Sector to Death

  1. I will continue to argue that in many of our cities, the public schools are as good, if not better, than the private schools. So beyond the privatization of public education, what is the goal here?

  2. You’d be right, but perceptions count (privatizers have worked very hard to create perceptions of failed public schools) and the truth is that there is a great, great need for improvement and that without support (financial and otherwise) that improvement becomes almost impossible. And the spiral goes down.

  3. That’s probably Norquist’s objective but if it is, he has failed miserably, at least at the federal level.

    Federal revenue has increased at more than the combined rate of CPI and population growth almost every year for a half century – – in real per capita terms it has more than doubled since 1966, the first year after the last time a major new entitlement program began (i.e., we’re not using pre-payroll tax years for a starting point here).

    We’re in the mess that we’re in because, while federal revenue in real per capita terms has more than doubled, federal spending in real per capita terms has almost tripled.

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