The Politics of For-Profits in Education Aren't Always What They Seem

While many of the recent debates about for-profit companies in K-12 and higher education have reflected traditional ideological divisions between Democrats and Republicans, a closer look reveals that these lines in the sand are far from constant, particularly when it comes to the Democratic position.

In More Than Meets the Eye: The Politics of For-Profits in Education, the second report of AEI's Private Enterprise in American Education series, AEI research fellow Andrew P. Kelly, who was recently named

one of sixteen next-generation leaders in education policy, illustrates how the typical political divides do not tell the whole story when it comes to the appropriate role of for-profits in education.

Some of his interesting findings include:

  • In K-12 education, Democrats have been amenable to for-profit involvement on policies like Supplemental Education Services and school turnarounds, where the for-profit role is limited to support services or a small subset of troubled schools.
  • In higher education, Democrats are divided on the 'for-profit question.' A surprising coalition of 58 Democrats--including some of the most liberal--broke ranks and joined Republicans in their effort to prevent the enforcement of proposed gainful-employment regulations.
  • At the K-12 level, roughly 75% percent of the public is supportive of for-profit contracting for peripheral services like transportation and facilities management, but only 25 to 30% are comfortable with for-profit management of entire school sites and instruction.
  • At the higher education level, the majority of Americans approve of for-profit colleges and universities, though they consistently see them as lower quality than public or nonprofit institutions.

Andrew P. Kelly can be reached at andrew.kelly@aei.org. For more information on AEI's Private Enterprise in American Education project, please visit www.aei.org/enterpriseined or contact Jenna Schuette at jenna.schuette@aei.org. For additional media inquires, contact Jesse Blumenthal at jesse.blumenthal@aei.org

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