The message from voters in last month’s election could not have been clearer: “DROP THE RIGID IDEOLOGY AND FOCUS ON ADDRESSING OUR MOST PRESSING CONCERNS.” Ensuring that our children receive a world-class education is clearly at the top of that list. Yet, the Republicans’ just-released radical agenda for turning Michigan public education into a voucher system, where every school in the state could be subject to a corporate takeover, suggests that they didn’t get the memo from the voters.
The Michigan GOP this week proposed a package of bills that would create an unregulated school system complete with corporate-run public schools and virtually no checks and balances or the transparency that should attend any expenditure of public funds. In short, what Michigan Republicans are proposing amounts to taxation without representation. Massive amounts of Michigan sales, income and other tax revenues, under this plan, could be placed at the disposal of private corporations – who answer to their owners and shareholders not the public – to operate schools without having to divulge to the public detailed financial statements or operational details.
Worse still, local school districts would be required to maintain, at significant expense, empty buildings in case charter schools decide they want the space.
These schools are not like the institutions you and I know from our own childhoods or where most Michiganders send their kids today. While local residents foot the bill, these new schools are not accountable to the community -- or even Michigan's education standards. Instead, they are under the control of an Education Achievement Authority, charged with taking the lowest performing 5 percent of schools statewide and creating what amounts to a "City of Michigan School District" that supersedes local control and elections. And every school in the state could eventually be classified as a low performer and sucked into the authority’s grasp.
Unlike traditional school districts, the EAA skirts the Constitution and has no form of oversight. While the Republican-proposed bills would allow the EAA to take state and federal funding, it is not overseen by the Department of Education or even the Michigan Legislature. The Republican plan would put tens of thousands of students across Michigan into a statewide program run from Lansing. Those countless students would be in a school system that has been educating students for all of three months and, at this time, has no track record of success.
If Republicans want to get serious about addressing the real issues facing our schools, my colleagues and I are willing to sit down and talk with them, and the people of Michigan would applaud. To attempt to push through in a few weeks a sloppy bill that will directly impact our children for the rest of their lives is nothing short of an insult that the people of our state will remember.