Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
PUBLIC AID FOR NONPUBLIC SCHOOLS
Kathy Gray of the Detroit Free Press reports that Republicans in the Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan Senate have agreed on a school aid budget that would provide $2.5 million in public aid to fund health and safety compliance at nonpublic schools. While the House of Representatives originally included $1 million for this purpose, the Senate originally included $5 million. The $2.5 million amount appears to be a compromise between the two figures.
In 1970, the people of the state of Michigan voted to amend the state constitution to prohibit public aid for nonpublic schools. This prohibition, contained in Article 8, section 2 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, provides in part that “[n]o public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid . . . to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic . . . school,” and that “[n]o payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student . . . at any such nonpublic school.”
An appropriation of $2.5 million from the School Aid Fund for nonpublic schools would be clearly unconstitutional. Apparently the Michigan Constitution is now only a nonbinding suggestion in the eyes of our legislative majority.
$5 MILLION FOR SCHOOLS IN STATE REFORM DISTRICT
The House of Representatives and Senate have also agreed to provide $5 million for payments to schools that have been taken over by the State School Reform/Redesign Office (“SRRO”).
The SRRO was created when former Governor Jennifer Granholm signed House Bill 4787 of 2009, which became Public Act 204 of 2009. Pursuant to Executive Order 2015-9, Governor Rick Snyder transferred the SRRO from the Michigan Department of Education to the Department of Technology, Management & Budget.
The School Reform Officer—a direct appointee of the governor who leads the SRRO—is empowered under MCL 380.1280c to identify the “lowest achieving 5% of all public schools” in the state, remove them from the local school districts to which they belong, seize control of the schools, assume all power of the local school board and administrators, and place the schools into the state school reform district. The School Reform Officer may then appoint a CEO to take over the operations of one or more of these schools. For each school in the state school reform district, the School Reform Officer must implement one of several “intervention models,” including closing the school or turning it over to a private “educational management organization.” The School Reform Officer may also terminate contracts, redirect school funds, revise or cancel collective bargaining agreements, and implement several other measures. In effect, the School Reform Officer has all the powers of an emergency manager with respect to the schools under his or her control.
The fact that the House of Representatives and Senate have agreed to provide $5 million for supplemental payments to schools in the state school reform district is a sign that the Legislature anticipates the takeover of additional schools in the upcoming fiscal year.
As an aside, I wonder why so many people who claim to be defenders of public education are supporting Senate Bill 710, which would give immense new authority to the School Reform Officer and SRRO. Legislators and others who support SB 710 are quick to point out that the bill would terminate the Education Achievement Authority (“EAA”) and end emergency management of the Detroit Public Schools (“DPS”). But this is only technically true. These same people conveniently forget to mention that the bill would provide significant new authority to the School Reform Officer, who already has most of the same powers as the EAA and an emergency manager. It’s funny how these things work.
Oh, by the way: Governor Rick Snyder’s current School Reform Officer, Natasha Baker, worked for New Orleans charter school company FirstLine Schools, Inc. before moving to Detroit with plans to open a charter of her own. Baker accepted a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Education to plan and develop her proposed charter school, but the school never opened. Baker went on to work for DPS and the Michigan Department of Education before becoming Snyder’s School Reform Officer.
MIKE DUGGAN AND THE DETROIT EDUCATION COMMISSION
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is lobbying and twisting arms in an effort to build support for the proposed Detroit Education Commission (“DEC”) that would be created under the language of SB 710. Duggan is adamant that Detroit needs a citywide education commission with the power to choose which schools can open and which cannot.
Under SB 710, the DEC would be composed of seven members appointed by the mayor of Detroit. Subject to limited exceptions, neither DPS nor a charter school authorizer would be permitted to open a new school in the city of Detroit without the DEC’s prior approval.
If you ask me, it seems fundamentally wrong to give a non-educator like Mike Duggan so much power to determine which schools would be allowed to open and which ones wouldn’t. We’ve all seen how Rahm Emanuel has wielded his power in Chicago. Why should one man have this kind of authority in Detroit? It just smells fishy.
And I don’t think you have to be a genius to see what’s really going on here— the DEC would prevent fair competition by freezing an entire class of disfavored charters out of the marketplace in order to make room for other, favored charters. Stated differently, the DEC would allow certain charters to expand and grow, while at the same time preventing others from operating at all. In my idea of a perfect world, there would be no charters. However, as long as they are here (and not going away anytime soon), I certainly don’t support cronyism and preferential treatment for certain charter-school operators over others simply because they happen to be friends of the mayor. The proposed DEC is just a way for Duggan, the Skillman Foundation, and the Detroit Chamber to reward their charter-operating allies and help them make money off the children of Detroit (as we know, even nonprofit charters are moneymakers). Playing favorites and picking winners and losers—it’s almost reminiscent of politburo-style government.
Of course, the other big problem with the proposed DEC is that it would prevent the restoration of meaningful authority to the locally elected school board. A democratically elected school board—and not an unaccountable DEC—should have the authority to make decisions concerning the opening and siting of DPS schools. Then again, SB 710 would not result in the return of authority to the elected school board at all. Unknown to many, SB 710 would actually dissolve the present DPS school board and replace it with a completely different body, for no stated reason other than a naked desire to oust the current democratically elected members.