Corporate Lobbying Behind the Crisis of American Education
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Corporate Lobbying Behind the Crisis of American Education


As discussed in our last article, one of the most significant spheres of crisis in the United States today is the education system, and this crisis is partially the result of a severe lack of funding and neglect on the part of policy-makers. When it comes to policy-formulation, the question always begs itself: Who is behind policy-making? More specifically, what are some of the most influential lobbies in American politics which have detracted from the education system?

An extremely telling study from 2014 by political scientists Lawrence Jacobs and Benjamin Page is revealing in this regard. This study, “Who Influences US Policy?”, to an unprecedentedly scientific degree analyzed eight quadrennial pairs of surveys sponsored by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and carried out by the Gallup and Harris organizations from 1974 to 2002 which gathered the survey-expressed policy preferences of government officials and elites whose institutional positions involve foreign policy. Involving also citizens chosen at random and conducted over a 30 year time frame in order to decipher “reasonable indicators of the policies that they [politicians] enact or pursue”, the survey interviewed 1550 citizens and a total of 2916 “elites.” The surveys were deemed to “provide what are, so far as we know, the best available data on comparably measured foreign policy preferences of ordinary citizens, interest groups, epistemic communities, and U.S. government officials. They cover a wide range of foreign policy issues over a lengthy period of time, both during and after the Cold War.” The relevant results of this study were conclusive: despite employing four different models of statistical analysis with different regressions and variables, it is business, i.e. economic lobbies, that have proven to commanded the overwhelmingly greatest sway in policy making. “A clear message from all four models,” Jacobs and Page write, “is that business is a consistently effective [absolute and relative] influence on policy makers” which overrides other lobbies. The influence of the American public came in last place.

This immense, neo-liberal economic lobbying which has overwhelmingly impacted foreign policy is also behind the crisis of American education. In fact, Jacobs and Page’s study also showed that the vastly more restricted extent to which representatives of education and experts have a say in policy is even also corrupted by the fact that “the policy preferences of experts are not statistically independent of the preferences of business,” but “are quite highly correlated.”

In other words, neo-liberal economic lobbying has overwhelmed policy-making, habitually directing resources away from education, and the voice of educators’ is further stifled by this lobbying’s permutations. In short, American education is under-funded, under attack, and is disenfranchised by American corporate capitalism.

For example, aggressive lobbying for lower taxes on corporations and the most wealthy has consistently meant deficits and insufficient funding allocation for American schools. It is also this resultant cutting off of financial support for education that has made neo-liberal education policies force enormous debts onto students’ shoulders. This has skyrocketed American student loan debt to around $1.5 trillion as of May 2018, and has made Americans more reluctant to pursue higher education and, upon finishing such, suffer from unprecedented levels of psychological and emotional stress with grim prospects. The circle is thus: education is deprived of funding by economic lobbying, which forces educational institutions and students themselves to have to bear the burden, which in turn is increasingly turning higher education into something unviable and even undesirable for Americans. The end result, of course, would the United States dropping even further down the international rankings of education and having an increasingly less educated populace for future American policy-making. All the while, it is taxpayers themselves who are forced to subsidize corporate lobbying instead of having their taxes going to America’s education.

Meanwhile, education activists and representatives have pointed out that students and families simply “can’t keep up in this influence game” as neo-liberal policies are pushed through which gut education funding and whose lobbying influence “has helped it avoid reforms and new programs that would make it more affordable for students to finance their education.”

Corporate lobbies have also further exacerbated the financial situation of the education system by re-directing funding to for-profit colleges. These “institutions” are known to be “systematic frauds” who are lobbied to receive taxpayer dollars which could go to real schools instead. While this problem has been particularly evident under the new Trump Administration, under the Obama Administration as well a Senate report found taxpayers paying $32 billion to subsidize companies with for-profit colleges, and higher education lobbies themselves were seen to have been “throwing in with the for-profits” for political leverage.

This all points to a systemic crisis of American governance in which the educational system has suffered dramatically. In a move to “cash in on kids”, private sector big business lobbies have striven to “transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests.” That such lobbies have the ability to do this is a fundamental problem.

In another instance, private corporations dominating the testing market have devoted dozens of billions of dollars to lobby state and federal officials to pursue education policies which mandate the taking of paid standardized tests. This ploy ensures profits for those neo-liberalizing education at the expense of students, and perpetuates a system in which testing is dictated not by quality or the pursuit of academic excellence, but for raking in money. This lobbying against the needs and quality of American education is a real cognitive dissonance, an unsustainable scheme in which short-term profits are preferred instead of the education of citizens and a resultant long-term, effective education-job market turnover. This is ultimately unsustainable for business interests themselves, since the majority of jobs that are supposed to be created by 2020 will demand higher education from those same ordinary Americans who can already no longer afford an education because of cuts and neglect due to corporate lobbying.

The American educational system, and by extension US society, is therefore being deprived of a viable future thanks to the corporate lobbying which studies have shown to be the most decisive in American policy-making. At stake is the future of the United States’ citizenry. The crisis of America’s education is an important index of the larger problem of American democracy being corrupted by corporate interests and the “money is free speech” precedent. This is a deep rooted and most important problem, and the uprooting of the power of such lobbying might require just as powerful a solution as a Constitutional amendment to address the influence of business interests on politicians in whose hands lies the future of Americans.

Author: Jafe Arnold