The unions' primary fear is loss of jobs. If just one percent of parents inside the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) chose to vote with their feet and take their vouchers to a private school, the district would lose 6,000 students, 200 teachers, and an equal number of staff, support, and administrative jobs –a terrifying prospect to any union head. Even so, the district could easily weather such a minor yearly defection (especially since the school population in LAUSD is expected to increase 30 percent from its current level of 644,000 students in the next 10 years). Unfortunately, the public schools suffer from what Whittaker Corporation CEO Joe Alibrandi calls the "Berlin Wall syndrome" – the notion that if the schools open the door to let anyone at all out, then everyone will go. "Look at it from a business standpoint," says Alibrandi. "I (the California public schools) have 5.4 million kids. The competition (private schools) has 500,000. I have 90 percent market share. And yet they –this big towering gargantuan– is scared of [any competition]."

What, wonders Alibrandi, do they know that I don't?

TO ASK the question is to answer it. The schools are collapsing; the teachers have lost their moral authority; to avoid embarrassing comparisons between the test scores of middle class white kids and poor inner-city blacks, they have de-emphasized grades and promoted self-esteem; rather than expel students who bring guns to class, until this year the LAUSD merely reassigned them to other schools (and then didn't tell their new teachers the reason for the transfer); unable to convince kids that they have anything valuable to offer them, schools do everything but stand on their heads to keep the students interested. (As a recent Los Angeles Times article incredulously pointed out, one Los Angeles junior high school currently offers courses in baseball card collecting, movie watching, and playing board games.) No wonder, according to American Education Association President Keith Geiger, 40 percent of urban area teachers now send their children to private schools. In Los Angeles, according to the American Enterprise Institute, the figure is 29 percent.

"My god," says Alibrandi, who was one of the people most responsible for getting Proposition 174 on the ballot. "If 30 to 40 percent of the people in my company bought the competition's product I'd be damn worried."

Instead, says Alibrandi, the educational establishment's reaction is to wrap itself in the mantle of public schools, America, and apple pie, even as the schools collapse around their feet. "I could tolerate that in the DMV," says Alibrandi. "I can tolerate it in the post office. But here we are talking about generations of kids going down the drain and that is too high a price to pay to maintain some bureaucracy. Today in the public schools, you have 30 percent dropping out. Fifty percent of the rest at best get a seventh grade education. And what happens? No one gets fired. Nothing gets changed."

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