Michigan Education Association

What is "Privatization"?

Button: No PrivatizationThe term "privatization" typically refers to shifting the delivery of services performed by public employees to private businesses. This usually occurs in the form of contracting out (also called "outsourcing"), whereby public organizations enter into contracts with private companies for the delivery of services.

Unfortunately, some school districts have been contracting out various education support services for decades. Many of the tasks they perform are often erroneously viewed as "peripheral" services that are detached from the rest of the system of education and thus easily separated from "core" educational functions. There has been no shortage of private companies actively seeking to perform education support functions, particularly in transportation, maintenance, custodial, and food services. In colleges and universities, the practice of contracting out is even more widespread.

Public education has seen a growth in private sector involvement on several other fronts. One is the emergence of an "education industry" composed of private companies that take over administrative and teaching functions for entire schools or even school districts.

Another is the steady growth of corporate commercial activities within public schools, including sales, advertising, and market research activities. The third is the voucher movement, which threatens to drain resources from public schools to subsidize private schools.

These forces, combined with support services contracting, amount to an attempted private sector takeover of the entire system of public education. If these forces were allowed to continue unabated, one could imagine a system of public education where nearly all administrative, teaching, support, and even cultural functions would be controlled by private companies, reducing the role of elected school boards to glorified contract administrators. Clearly, this prospect gives new and deeper meaning to the term "privatization."


Updated: February 20, 2009 10:35 AM