Because I watch the local NBC news and The Rachel Maddow Show, I've been seeing non-stop ads for their upcoming reality show "School Pride" about armies of volunteers swarming public schools to clean, repair, and upgrade them. And every time I saw one of those ads, I asked the same question: who's paying for it?
The Sunday NYT has a puff piece about the new series (Brian Stelter, "'School Pride,' Reality TV Brings School Makeovers," New York Times, 10/14/10) that doesn't get around to addressing that question until the seventeenth paragraph, the fourth from the last: "For the most part NBC handled the TV production costs, while sponsors covered the renovation costs and made donations. Like other reality shows, product placement abounds, with Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, and General Motors all playing starring roles for their contributions to the schools."
Translation: if we had higher taxes, so that every school could afford to buy all these building materials, computers, software, supplies, and vehicles, our schools wouldn't look like they do. Is this really terribly shocking? Once counties and states learned that they had to bid against each other in a destructive race to the bottom, first eliminating property taxes on corporate property and then, when that wasn't enough, handing out huge chunks of local taxpayer funded corporate welfare, in order to bid against each other for the too-few jobs that the corporations were auctioning off to the lowest bidder, pretty nearly every school except for the ones in a few very wealthy districts ran almost completely out of maintenance money.
And counties had no choice in the matter: run-down schools or high unemployment, it's not even all that hard to see which of the two hurts not just the county, but the kids as well, the more. So we learned to put up with schools that look, not just like prisons, but like long-abandoned prisons. When people move out to the exurbs for "good schools," it's not just to escape the feared black male students who might hurt (or worse, befriend) their precious white snowflakes, it has the bonus attraction of having school buildings that were built more recently, so they haven't had as much time to decay.
So I'm not terribly surprised that wealthy and powerful corporations donated money and materials to a fellow wealthy corporation, enough money and materials to remake just a couple of the country's thousands of decayed schools. They can count on that fellow wealthy corporation to package the school makeovers in such a way as to find some way to blame labor unions and lack of volunteers, not three decades of anti-tax blackmail and corporate welfare, for the state of our schools. And if they're very lucky, they can hope that remaking those five or ten schools or however few it is will stave off the pressure to raise the taxes it would take to fix the rest of them, and thereby make the issue go away for a little while longer.
Color me "not impressed."