Closing the Book: 11th Hour Attempt by Michigan\'s Lame Duck Legislature to Destroy the Michigan Public School System

Hyperbole? Hair On Fire? Sky Is Falling? Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Posted In: Politics, State, News, Investigative Reporting, State,   From Issue 760   By: Robert E Martin

06th December, 2012     0

Although its only one month since the Presidential election, Republicans in both the Michigan House & Senate have taken it upon themselves in this current lame-duck session to completely dismantle public education as we know it with a package of bills that would - among other things -  transfer ownership of public schools over to private Charter Schools lined up to make huge profits on the deal, despite the fact those very schools were built with public tax dollars.
 
This story first broke on November 28th when Bloomfield Hills School Superintendent Rob Glass posted a letter on the Bloomfield Hills School District website about a freshly introduced package of legislation: Michigan House Bills 6004 & 5923 and State Senate Bills 1358 & 620. Bloomfield Hills is, of course, one of the wealthiest and most Republican areas in Michigan; hometown to both Mitt Romney and Cranbrook Academy.
 
“A package of bills designed to corporatize and dismantle public education is being hastily pushed through this current 'lame duck' session. If we do not take immediate action I believe great damage will be done to public education, including our school system,” states Glass. “We have just three weeks to take action before it's too late.”
 
House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358: Would expand a separate and statewide school district (the 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.
 
“I've never considered myself a conspiracy theorist--until now,” continues Glass. “This package of bills 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. I believe this is fundamentally wrong. State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan and State Board of Education President John Austin and others have also expressed various concerns, as has the Detroit Free Press.”
 
“We embrace change, innovation and personalization. We're passionate about providing choices and options for students. We compete strongly in the educational marketplace. We must never stop improving. This is not a laissez faire plea to defend the status quo. This is about making sure this tidal wave of untested legislation does not sweep away the valued programs our local community has proudly built into its cherished school system,” concludes Glass.
 
At a meeting presented the next day by Dave Randels, Asst. Director of Govt. Relations & Pupil Services for the Oakland County Schools, more details of these bills were revealed, underscoring how they essential navigate a wholesale corporate takeover of the public school system, with the new 'statewide district' bypassing all local control, local school boards, and eve the state board of education and the legislature itself, reporting directly to the Governor.
 
Even more disconcerting, however, is that the 3-week time frame articulated by Glass may be obsolete, as the Legislature is rapidly moving forward with voting on these bills within days.
 
As of November 30th (prior to our press-time) Senate Republicans are planning to ignore Senate rules and bypass a vote by the Senate Education Committee on the EAA bill, which means the full Senate can vote upon this at any time.
 
Every individual in the Great Lakes Bay & beyond should be deeply concerned by these fast-track maneuvers to dismantle public education. EAA schools would be exempt to many of the laws regarding testing requirements, standards and quality control that traditional community-governed public schools are judged and assessed.
 
EAA would be allowed to seize unused school buildings - built and financed by local taxpayers - and force the sale or lease of these building to charter, non-public or EAA schools with no local control.
 
Many of the largest Charter School conglomerates are rapidly fashioning a cookie-cutter approach to education, with the top five Charter School national syndicates already carving a 70% market-share into this burgeoning resource-pool.  But most disconcerting is that these profitable and privately operated charter & online entities siphon public funds without increasing total funding available, resulting in fewer resources available for traditional public schools, while amounting to an unprecedented subsidy of well-heeled private entities. In essence, this move takes value stolen from the bottom in order for the top to profit.
 
An important component of the American educational system has always centered upon inclusiveness - the notion that regardless of class or income, all students are entitled to the opportunity for a quality education. How the public can be better served by forcing the poor & middle classes into an inferior educational product that goes to the very core of what can lift them out of their station in life is beyond me.
 
The guiding ethos driving this package of bills is the notion that local districts are solely responsible for poor performance because of bad management and governance; therefore, the only way to 'save' failing schools is for the state to take them over and sell them off to Charters.  Unfortunately, the evidence does not hold this to be true.
 
While the EAA has been in existence in Michigan only since October 1st, there is history of these same people using the same model in Kansas City, where student performance became even worse once the EAA took over. This also points to a possible reason why the language in the Michigan bills removes any testing requirements - this way no one will know how severely the EAA is failing our students.  Again, in what type of world can this be characterized as 'progress'?
 
Perhaps a more solid prognosis would be for the legislature to address the wider problem: inadequate resources and support for schools dealing with high levels of child poverty. State takeovers won't change this; and there is no evidence that the EAA's technology-driven version of “student centered learning” will be more successful than the existing programs.
 
 
 

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