“Backpack Full of Cash” documents what happened to the public-school system of Philadelphia during the school year of 2014. At a time when public schools were hit by a fiscal crisis, “reformers” in Philly offered a menu of alternative choices to parents, with some charter schools employing aggressive marketing, using the word “choice” as a euphemism for “better” and underplaying the ramifications of parents’ decisions on both their child’s education and the public schools. The outcome was not what was promised. And Philadelphia is not an atypical example of other parts of the country where privatizing of public schools has a grip.
In a nutshell, the film graphically shows how the “reformers” siphoned off taxpayer resources from public education. “Backpack Full of Cash” exposes the “reformers” erroneous propaganda by following the money.
- · In 2002, George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind law that introduced extensive testing into every grade of the public school. Federal money was supposed to fund this. Ka-ching! Test -creating companies make a bonanza. Teachers are now to be evaluated by how their students perform on the tests. Teaching to the tests becomes entrenched in public-school classrooms, creating school days of skill and drill, narrowing the curriculum and decreasing the morale and increasing the attrition of good teachers.
- · Race to the Top was the Obama administration’s compounding of the aims of the “reformers” by using money as a carrot for states to implement “reformers” missions: Standardized curriculum, standardized testing, more technology to cut costs (mostly teachers) and closing neighborhood public schools deemed to be “failing.”
- · The founding of charter schools with no accountability to the taxpayer but promising all kinds of goodies to enrollees (by lottery) except for children with disabilities (not enough money to provide for them) prompted an exodus from the public schools and the backpacks of cash that went with it. While there are some charter schools that fulfill a mission of high achievement, most don’t do any better than public school and some do worse. Plus, the lack of accountability as to the allocation of funding offered an opportunity for corruption. Every time money changes hands, there an opportunity for someone’s pockets to get lined.
- · A voucher system that allows the money for a child to follow the child to a private school, including religious schools. Thus, public money is now sent to religious institutions—a clear violation of the separation of church and state. In many places, these vouchers are euphemistically called “scholarships.”
“Backpack Full of Cash” is tough to take, even when you know the story, because film shows how real people are affected by these policies. Thus, it has real impact. But I found a new ray of hope in the film with their documented success of the Union City school district of Union City, NJ. Here, parents didn’t buy “choice” but bought into making their public schools better. It is a model for hope.
The producers of “Backpack Full of Cash” are launching a community screening campaign. If you care about investing in this country, it’s a must-see. And now, our clueless Secretary of Education wants to spend money training teachers, who so desire, how to use guns to protect their charges. Thus giving the halls of learning increased opportunities for tragic mistakes. Can you imagine children killed by "friendly" fire?