October 17, 2014
When a good government program is privatized, it's the people who pay the highest price. Sallie Mae is a prime example.
Originally known as the Student Loan Financing Association, it started out as a Government-Sponsored Enterprise, in 1973, to support the guaranteed student loan program created by the Higher Education Act of 1965. Between 1997 and 2004, amid a bipartisan push to deregulate banks, Sallie Mae was privatized into a for-profit corporation.
Since its privatization, Sallie Mae has earned a stunning record of mistreating its patrons including cheating military service-members on their student loans. Without admitting or denying guilt, the Justice Department ordered Sallie Mae to pay $97 million in fines, restitution, refunds and penalties in a settlement agreement still awaiting court approval. Such criminal conduct would generally warrant a suspension or termination of Sallie Mae's contract with the Department of Education, which requires the corporation to comply with federal laws at all times.
Despite this record, this summer the Education Department renewed its contract with Sallie Mae, extending service for another five years under the loan giant's new name: Navient Corporation. For students who had been paying their loans in a timely manner but were forced into default by Sallie Mae after their co-signers died, this had to come as a shock.
Years of corporate influence inside the DC beltway have created a government which behaves like a corporation, more concerned about its bottom line than the people it is supposed to defend and protect. Under the federal student-loan system, the Education Department is expected to reap more than $127 billion in profit from student borrowers over the next decade. The larger problem of student-loan debt (high tuition and interest rates) is explained well in Matt Taibbi's article, Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal: the current system is a "sociopathic marriage of private-sector greed and government force," preying upon the aspirations of young Americans.
College students are not the only people under attack. The whole public education system is facing a coup under the guise of "Corporate Education Reform." Vouchers, charter schools, school choice and high stakes testing are all code words in a theater of operation to privatize public education. Investors are already lining up behind private corporations aiming to capture contracts from states willing to sell out their students' education rather than rejigger their budget priorities to eliminate corporate subsidies.
The most famous of these investors is Bill Gates through his foundation, which exerted considerable influence and funds to create the Common Core State Standards. Jesse Hagopian writes, "The Gates Foundation has used its immense wealth to circumvent the democratic process to create the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with very little input from educators."
Since their adoption in 2010, 43 states have implemented the standards. But 'Operation High Stakes Testing' is on shaky ground. In a June 10 press release, the Gates Foundation announced "assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years, during this transition." Even the creator of the high-stakes testing program thinks that the program is not up to snuff--now that it has been implemented at a combined cost of $1.7 billion per year.
More importantly, an insurgency is growing--a movement comprised of teachers, parents and students--determined to preserve public education as the basis upon which a democracy is built and chalking up victories of their own through test boycotts, rallies, marches, and student walk-outs. In addition, Rethinking Schools, I Am an Educator, and Diane Ravitch's blog provide information and resources to anyone interested in saving and improving public education.
What is obvious for many of us in the Move to Amend coalition is the clear connection between corporate rule and the oppression of civil and human rights.
Teachers understand how a good education is the foundation of a vibrant democracy, and the privatization of education is doing irreparable harm to this foundation. We invite educators, students and parents to sign the Motion to Amend petition, in support of the We the People Amendment. Once ratified, corporate Constitutional rights would be eliminated (replaced by revocable privileges granted by States) and money would be a form of barter, not speech.
We can win the corporate war on public education and build an education system to serve our young people in this technological age, but only if we come together as a united front and demand it. Those demands begin with a campaign to legalize democracy and end corporate rule.
Laura Bonham is a member of the Move to Amend National Leadership Team. Contact her at laura [at] movetoamend.org. Keyan Bliss is a senior intern for the Move to Amend Coalition, working in field organizing and communications. Contact him at keyanb [at] movetoamend.org.