For a greater part of the twentieth century investment in education had been seen as “nation-building”, an investment in future citizens, and a way of giving students from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds a common educational experience, integrating them and building a democratic, equalitarian, national culture, thereby preparing children to be respectable citizens. During the 1960s increasing investment in education was based on the theory that the more money invested in education the better the outcomes in terms of national prosperity.
However during the 1970s school budget cuts, fuelled by an unwillingness on the part of businesses, property owners and the wealthy to pay taxes, began to reverse the trend. Instead of investing as much as possible in education, the new emphasis was to educate as many as possible for the least cost. Education came to be “viewed as a cost rather than an investment”. It wasn’t that there was not enough money for education, it was just that it was no longer seen as high a priority.
Large corporations funded neo-conservative think tanks during the 1970s and 1980s that promoted a reduced role for government and more use of private markets to supply public services. Although the think tanks were often motivated by an ideological commitment to markets, their corporate financiers were motivated by a desire for lower taxation and more investment opportunities. Many businessmen believed that the cost of government-supplied services was too high because of bureaucratic inefficiencies and because of government efforts to meet social objectives such as equity.
Think tanks, flourishing with the inflow of corporate money, advocated lower government spending and budget deficits and reduced collective provision of public services. Their ‘experts’ depicted the public provision of education and other public services as “unproductive and wasteful, a ‘tax burden’ on society”. They produced theories to undermine the connection between educational investment and national economic growth.
The corporate desire for lower tax rates and greater investment opportunities, in conjunction with the corporate-funded ideology of neoconservative think tanks, meant that funding to the public sector was cut back during the 1980s and 90s in many nations and schools were subject to significant funding cuts. Consequently fewer teachers were employed and those remaining had to work longer hours. Class sizes increased. School facilities deteriorated. Teachers and students were demoralised. Governments encouraged the private provision and funding of education and education services. School management focused on ways of managing scarce resources and “doing more with less”, rather than on providing a better education for students.