The Government Education Complex Defined

“The “Government Education Complex” is the interlocking set of interests that control the vast majority of American education dollars, education policy, and the steady increase in unnecessary education job creation.”

There it is… in a nutshell. From this, flows most of my theories about how Government Schooling is damaging generations of children.

The following is a more concise definition of how I (and others of my ilk) define and frame our arguments against Public Schools, Government Schools, and State Schools. Actually, for years we’ve been discussing on my AltEdDiscourse List, the problems with Government Schools using this term as a basis for defining all of the systemic problems with Government Run, Taxpayer Funded (GRTF) Schooling. Bruno Behrend has been a huge contributor to our discussions on AltEdDiscourse in the past, and he continues with the Heartland Institute today.

And so, with special thanks to my good friend, Bruno, I would like to present his concise definition of the GEC and why our Government Schools will never be fully reformed until we fundamentally change how we pay for and deliver “education.”

If you want to discuss with me, the state of public education, please read this first. It’ll be good for you to know where I’m comin’ from.

The Government Education Complex

by Bruno Behrend

The “Government Education Complex” is the interlocking set of interests that control the vast majority of American education dollars, education policy, and the steady increase in unnecessary education job creation. The explosion of spending, debt, and taxation we’ve witnessed in the last 25 years was used to fund the growth of this Complex.

The complex is made up not only of associations of administrators and teachers unions, but an interconnected network of bond dealers, builders, architects, law firms, textbook companies, and other service providers who profit off of the overproduction of service contracts, debt, public employment, and bureaucracy. This interlocking network has played a role in funding the campaigns of thousands of elected officials at all levels and in both parties.

Like the Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned of, the “Government Education Complex” is politically powerful and completely self-interested in perpetuating itself. Unlike the Military Industrial Complex, which has provided America with the most effective fighting force on the planet, the Government Education Complex has failed to provide our society with the educated populace we are paying for.

Rather, it merely uses our children as a stick to beat more money out of us while providing, at best, a mediocre education for the lucky. The unlucky get to go to America’s urban drop-out factories.

The vast sum of political money raised by the “Government Education Complex” is used to write legislation at the state level to grow the complex while protecting it from any competition. State school codes are written by and for the complex and its members and passed by the political class whose campaigns they fund.

The “Government Education Complex” succeeds because of one key factor in its structure – the school district. The “district” is an artifice that provides voters and citizens with the false perception of “local control.” In fact, your local school district is merely a “franchise” of the centralized complex – like McDonalds, only more expensive. That is why America has literally thousands of school districts, almost all of which are creatures of the individual states’ school codes. While there is some variation state to state and district to district, most of that variation is due to differing socio-economic or regional factors, not district autonomy.

This raises the question of whether the “Government Education Complex” is corrupt. The short answer is, “Yes.” At any given moment, you can find hundreds of local news stories about wasted money, insider contracts, or the difficulty citizens encounter when looking into school district finances. The entire process, from the complex property tax collection system to the overly complex fund accounting dictated in many states, is designed to obfuscate spending.

The long answer is more complex, simply because a great deal of what most regular citizens call “corruption” has been legalized by most state school codes. The Government Education Complex is designed to grow itself while spending money by the billions. It is operating exactly as intended. The actual education of America’s children is not its agenda. Spending money is its agenda.

In conclusion, the Government Education Complex cannot be reformed. It must be dismantled. If you are serious about educating America’s children, you must disabuse yourself of the notion that any combination of tepid reforms – a transparency law here, a teacher merit pay tweak there, or teacher measurement improvement law anywhere – can “fix” our education system.

Dismantlement means that we need to move toward the money following the child to a much more vast array of education content providers. We need to create a “Parent/Child Education Network.” This means that there will be a place for every imaginable learning system, from the traditional school to international digital learning content beamed to tablets and smart phones. This Parent/Child Education Network must replace the Government Education Complex.

That should be your goal, and every incremental step in education reform must be measured by whether it leads there. Anything that leaves the Government-Education Complex in place will fail to improve America’s education outcomes.

Bruno Behrend works for the Heartland Institute. Here’s a similar post in his words at
Bruno Behrend
Director of the Center for School Reform
The Heartland Institute
19 South LaSalle Street #903
Chicago, IL 60603
phone 312/377-4000
fax 312/377-5000

3 thoughts on “The Government Education Complex Defined

  1. As a former homeschooling mom and current public school mom… I have to agree with this quote, “This means that there will be a place for every imaginable learning system, from the traditional school to international digital learning content beamed to tablets and smart phones. This Parent/Child Education Network must replace the Government Education Complex.” At this juncture in my personal life I would find homeschooling all 6 of my children very difficult. I would however love to have a “something in between”. I appreciate the input of caring public school teachers in my children’s lives, but wish I was the one who was calling the shots. I want more input as well as more time with my children. I love the charter school set up in Muncie, with some days at school, some days at home. More than one of my children expresses continually that they want to be home more than at school. If I mention the ‘benefit’ of having their friends at school to socialize with, then shrug it off, they’d rather trade less time with peers for more time with me. Maybe my kids are weird. I would like to teach my kids with the help and backing of a solid knowledge base behind me if I have trouble or need extra input for say learning ‘disabilities’. I would love an educator/parent/child process where by more individualized instruction could be given by the parent at home, while the core explanations and subjects better suited to group activity were done in the brick and mortar. I like it that my kids are able to experience some things that they would not have if homeschooled, but I miss the times where we lingered a little longer while reading together to discuss life. I enjoy them being accountable to an outside authority for getting work done, it changes my role and I can just be mom, not the school administrator/teacher/parent. It also has improved the relationship I have with at least one of my children who struggles with learning ‘disabilities’. I want a middle ground between public school and completely independent homeschools. I know many homeschool families who are able to provide their children with superb ‘extracurricular’ activities. Some of those choices were not or would not be available to my children due to our economic standing. I’m not just talking about sports either, I mean music education, advanced training on computers, dancing, theater, etc. There are things my children will get to do and be exposed to which would not be part of our lives if we were homeschooling.
    I know though that in some families this would appear as chaos to have to coordinate with the school and have children home some days or more hours each day. How would two income families function? How would children whose parents didn’t want to participate ever become well educated? What about parents who could not contribute to the child’s education, due to illness or absence (military service, jail time, work out of state, or heavy work schedule)? I wonder how we make homeschooling a viable option for everyone financially? Obviously, there is a lot of money changing hands in order to provide $$ to the school districts. How do we allow that money to be reallocated to those desiring to educate at home, without having government interference and strict oversight? Returning property tax money earmarked for eduction back to the tax payers would not benefit those who are not home/property owners. How do we support people who want to homeschool, but cannot? How do we do right for the kids who need somebody willing to teach them, because a parent can’t/wont?

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