Saying “I’ve never considered myself a conspiracy theorist—until now,” Rob Glass, the Superintendent of the Bloomfield Hills School District, sent a letter out to parents in his district yesterday, outlining the education reform plans unveiled last week by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. “This package of bills,” said Glass, “is the latest in a yearlong barrage of ideologically-driven bills designed to weaken and defund locally-controlled public education, handing scarce taxpayer dollars over to for-profit entities operating under a different set of rules.”
The 302-page legislative package, which you can download by clicking here, was drafted by Lansing lawyer Richard McLellan, a former official in the administration of Republican Governor John Engler, and the cofounder of the Koch Brothers-funded think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. (To give you an idea as to where they are ideologically, we have the Mackinac Center to thank for the concept of financial martial law.) McLellan, who has long been a proponent of implementing a school voucher system in Michigan, which would channel public money into the coffers of private, for-profit schools, had been given the task last year by Snyder to rewrite the State’s 33-year-old School Aid Act, which is essentially the blueprint that dictates how our public schools are funded. Here, in the words of Superintendent Glass, is an explanation of what McLellan, through his prestigious-sounding new organization – the Oxford Foundation – has come up with.
House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358- Would expand a separate and statewide school district (the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan or EAA) overseen by a governor-appointed chancellor and functioning outside the authority of the State Board of Education or state school superintendent. These schools are exempt from the same laws and quality measures of community-governed public schools. The EAA can seize unused school buildings (built and financed by local taxpayers) and force sale or lease to charter, non-public or EAA schools.
House Bill 5923- Creates several new forms of charter and online schools with no limit on the number. Bundled with HB 6004/SB1358, many of these schools could be created by the EAA. Public schools are not allowed to create these new schools unless they charter them. Selective enrollment/dis-enrollment policies will likely lead to greater segregation in our public schools. This bill creates new schools without changing the overall funding available, further diluting resources for community-governed public schools.
Senate Bill 620- Known as the ‘Parent Trigger’ bill, this would allow the lowest achieving 5% of schools to be converted to a charter school while allowing parents or teachers to petition for the desired reform model. This bill… disenfranchises voters, ends their local control, and unconstitutionally hands taxpayer-owned property over to for-profit companies. Characterized as parent-empowerment, this bill does little to develop deep, community-wide parent engagement and organization.
So, this legislation, if passed, would essentially create a parallel, for-profit education system, right alongside the Michigan public school system, unanswerable to anyone, save for an appointee of the Governor. There would be no accountability to the State Board of Education of the State Superintendent of Schools. And, as Glass points out, these for-profit entities would be able, like parasites, to take over our vacated public school facilities, which had been constructed with taxpayer dollars, for pennies on the dollar.
And the idea, it would seem, is to force this legislation through the Republican controlled House and Senate now, during the lame duck session, before the new legislative class makes their way to Lansing… which doesn’t leave us much time to get organized. (I believe I’ve heard that we have about two weeks before this would come to a vote.)
Here, in the interest of fairness, is how McLellan, through the Oxford Foundation, is positioning the legislation.
…The new Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 is aimed at creating a public education funding system that allows a student to learn “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way and Any Pace,” and create the path toward more robust performance-based funding. Below are five major concepts included in the draft.
1. Removal of District “Ownership” of a Student. A student will be allowed to take a course, multiple courses or the student’s entire bundled education package from any public education district in the state. A local school district will maintain its ability to determine whether to participate in open enrollment.
2. Creation of Online Learning Options with Performance Funding. Technology is changing the delivery of instruction to students. A student will be allowed to access instruction from across the state using advancing technology. The district providing the online course will immediately receive public funding, based on performance measures. Again, a district will not limit a student’s choices.
3. Funding will truly follow the Student. Under the current model, a school receives 90% of its state general education funding based on where a student sits on the first Wednesday in October. We create a dynamic system, where the funding will actually follow the student. 15 other states are already using the Average Daily Membership method for allocating funds.
4. Framework for Performance-based Funding for all courses. We are setting the framework for the full implementation of computer-adaptive student growth and assessment tools that are on the horizon. We are maintaining the current growth funding incentives for the next fiscal year until the Smarter Balanced assessment and the recommendations from the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness are complete.
5. Early Graduation Scholarships. We are creating an incentive for students – who are ready – to graduate early. $2,500 will be available for each semester a student graduates early. Let’s help those students who are ready to graduate.
So, if I’m reading this correctly, not only will our students be incentivized to leave school early, thus lessening the burden on Michigan tax payers, but they’ll also be able to complete their coursework from home, having used Michigan taxpayer dollars to purchase online modules of questionable educational value from the likes of Mike Huckabee… Sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it?
Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who, along with other Democrats, had proposed a competing plan called Michigan 2020, apparently doesn’t buy the bullshit line about how this is being done to help children. She took to Daily Kos almost immediately after the Governor’s plan became public, and shared the following thoughts.
…(W)hile so many of us advocate for the need to reinvest in our schools throughout the state and provide each and every student with a world class education, Governor Snyder, the so-called tough “nerd”, has taken the opposite approach. He has pushed through budgets over the past two years that have raided nearly $2 billion from our schools and used it instead to provide tax handouts to big corporations without the promise of a single job being created. He has blamed teachers for poor performing schools while gutting the funding needed to keep our schools competitive and made it more and more difficult for students to achieve the success necessary to compete in a rapidly changing global job market.
Yesterday, Governor Snyder released the latest and most offensive step in his anti-education agenda in the form of a proposed overhaul of Michigan’s school aid funding. The deeply flawed plan would end public education as we know it in Michigan by enacting nearly the same voucher system that Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2000. It would create fiscal uncertainty for every single school in the state and only succeed in lining the pockets of the CEOs running for-profit corporate schools.
It isn’t a plan that looks forward, it’s one that only looks back on previous attempts by out-of-state interests to profit off of Michigan’s students. It’s a plan that says the education of our children is better left to the corporate accountants at “Schools, Inc.” than it is with the teachers in our classrooms. It’s nothing short of a disaster waiting to happen and one that I find simply offensive as both a legislator and as a mother of two young girls…
So, here’s how this trick apparently works, for those of you in other states who would like to attempt something similar… You defund education to the point of collapse, and, then, pointing to the inevitable failure, you make the case that the only option left available is to essentially hand the whole thing over to corporate America. And you bring in an anti-public education operative with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers, hiding behind the facade of a pro-education foundation with “Oxford” in its name, so that it sounds super smart, to draft the whole thing. Then, you announce it right before the Thanksgiving break, knowing that no one will take notice. Evil and brilliant, right?
The problem is, people in Michigan, who already voted down the idea of school vouchers in 2000, are taking notice, and the momentum against Snyder is beginning to build as more and more superintendents are stepping up to inform families in their districts. Following, as an illustration of the fact that the people are beginning to line up against Synder on this, is a clip from the recent editorial in the Detroit Free Press.
Lame-duck legislative sessions are typically the devil’s cauldron, filled with a steaming heap of cowardly and ill-thought-out legislation that wouldn’t have a prayer of passing if citizens (or even lawmakers) were paying much attention.
This year is no different, with the Republican majorities in both chambers weighing serious, sweeping structural changes to public education in a hurried and haphazard fashion. Certainly, the goal of this sloppy legislation isn’t to improve schooling (you’d need a far more careful approach to do that) so what’s the motive? Likely, it’s ideology — which is often the enemy of improved outcomes…
There’s no question that Michigan could use more innovation in education, and open minds about school finance and governance are going to be a prerequisite in the ongoing conversation about change. But in a host of bills that hadn’t seen the light of day until after the Nov. 6 election, the Legislature is poised to ram through reforms that really ought to be discussed and debated in a much broader context, and probably over a much longer period of time.
And much of what’s being proposed looks a lot like McLellan’s voucher system, just by another name.
The legislation being debated would essentially open up the state to creation of an unlimited number of schools run by for-profit charter outfits, businesses, universities and just about anyone else, with the use of money that now funds public school districts. Even the newly created Education Achievement Authority, which debuted this year as a special district for chronically low-performing schools, would gain sweeping power to create new schools under one of the bills being considered.
The idea behind them is principally to introduce more market competition for public schools, and to allow for more innovation.
Neither is a bad idea.
But, as crafted, these bills would not have these new schools face the kind of oversight — standard-setting and enforcement — that the state has been inching toward implementing for other public schools.
This has been a running problem with the efforts to expand charter schools since Snyder was elected in 2010; advocates believe the market for independent schools is self-regulating, and that bad charters will close because Michigan families won’t choose them.
The problem is that, in practice, that hasn’t happened in the most robust charter market in the state, Detroit, where scores of middling or even awful charters stay open year after year, providing no better education than their public school counterparts…
Assuming you agree, there are a few things you can do immediately. On one end of the spectrum, there’s civil disobedience. And, on the other, there are petitions. Here, for those of you who’d prefer not to chain yourselves up to the fence surrounding the Governor’s gated community, or protest at a local for-profit charter school, is a link to a petition, which, as of right now, already has over 11,000 signatures. Here’s what it says.
“Do not continue to promote the passage of HB 6004 or any other legislation that replaces locally elected representatives of the people with unelected State appointed bureaucrats. We do not want the education of our children privatized and our tax dollars and local school buildings turned over to for-profit corporations.”
[note: The Lansing Democrats have now rolled out a petition of their own, and I suspect that, if you sign it, and give them your contact information, they’ll keep you updated.]
And, once you share this post with your friends, you could also write to your representatives in the Michigan House and Senate, and tell them that you’re adamantly against Michigan State Senate bills 1358 and 620, and Michigan State House bill 6004 and 5923. And, while you’re at it, you could write to the Governor as well. Here’s his contact information.
Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Phone: (517) 373-3400
Email: click here
UPDATE: Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Vickie L. Markavitch weighs in….