In recent years, governments seemed to be obsessed with public-private partnerships. Education is not exempt from that phenomenon. PPPs are often based more on faith in the market than on performance, quality, or efficiency. Often, their greatest accomplishment is to shift resources from public coffers to private pockets.
In education, it is common for PPPs to masquerade as being cost-free or inexpensive ways to educate children; including disadvantaged and poor children. But, as we have often been told, there are no free lunches.
In far too many PPPs and other efforts to slide education from public services to private control, the hidden price tag, in terms of resources, but, more importantly, in terms of education quality is huge and will be paid for generations to come.
It will be paid with money, but also in the lives of this and future generations of children who may learn to pass tests, but little else.
There is, however, one public-private partnership that has served the public and education well for generations; corporations and wealthy individuals paying their taxes and contributing to the societies from which they benefit so generously.
But, unfortunately, that PPP seems to be breaking down. The latest episode of creative tax avoidance is the Panama Papers where corporations or individuals have managed to be taxed based on fiction rather than on reality. It is not necessarily illegal, but it is not very nice.
This is only the latest scandal exposing the seemingly infinite number of devices and mechanisms for corporations and wealthy individuals to shift their burdens to those who consider it normal to pay taxes.
Probably the most striking aspect of the Panama Papers is that it produced public outrage rather than simply cynicism; perhaps because some politicians have been caught in the net.
It has provided a new, often repeated excuse for political leaders, “I did not break the law”. That is not “placing the bar” very high. The combination of pious statements by politicians and complicity recalls one of the lines of Capitaine Louis Renault in the film “Casablanca”, who said, “I’m shocked, shocked. There is gambling going on here” just before being handed his winnings.
Failure to fix pre-Panama Papers scandals is rooted in the distribution of power in society. It is also one of the principal reasons for the growth in inequality. And, extreme inequality and the gross imbalance of power are undermining not just education, but also our democracies, our economies, and our futures.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said to Winston Churchill in 1942, “It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.” However, nobody would have imagined in those days just how distorted the distribution of wealth and power would become in 2016.
Improving education and other public services in line with the UN sustainable development goals requires resources. That means action and mobilisation and more than a little outrage. It will not be enough for the rich and powerful to pay their part of the bill to achieve the SDGs, but it will help and it will make the system more credible.
We must revive the paying taxes PPP before it dies out completely. It deserves to grow and spread to every corner of the world.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.