Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
Much like Nick, I have returned from my August vacation (how European of me) and decided it's about time I start blogging again. And what was waiting in my inbox upon my return? Low and behold, it was this gem of an article from the Freep outlining Governor Snyder's latest proposal for "education empowerment zones." The name alone is enough to make you sick. More fatuous Orwellian doublespeak some lackey in the Governor's policy shop (er, I mean "Office of Strategic Policy") no doubt discovered in some pamphlet from a corporate education reform think tank.
If the name doesn't get you, the content of the bills will. The Governor has decided to double down on his May 2015 DPS proposals (discussed on Fix The Mitten here) by expanding the education manager policy to any financially struggling district. This education manager (i.e., an emergency financial manager) would have dictatorial control over all publicly funded schools in the district (including charters or in the case of Detroit the EAA). The manager could close schools, fire teachers and principals, erase bargaining agreements (a big plus in the Governor's mind), or change curriculum on a whim. Local school boards, much less local residents, would have no say in the functioning and operations of their local schools. An appointed manager would be in charge of everything. And did I mention this education manager with carte blanche authority would not be required to be an educator. Yes, the Governor thinks it makes perfect sense to put accountants in charge of making educational decisions - after all he's an accountant so they must be pretty great, right?
And we know from the EAA and Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs) of DPS (and Muskegon Heights and Benton Harbor and Inkster and Buena Vista...) that everything is wonderful once a state appointed czar takes over a district. Huh? No you say? Don't tell me the EAA is an educational and fiscal mess or that DPS has racked up record debt and lost tens of thousands of students under a series of EFMS. No everything is fine - I mean it has worked so well that must be why the Governor thinks it's a great idea for any school district across the state that's struggling financially, right?
And did I mention that the Detroit News reported this week that 43 districts had their credit rating lowered? This coupled with the mass June layoffs of teachers and support staff in many suburban school districts shows the dire financial situation facing hundreds of districts across the state. And remember these financial issues are a result of funding and policy decisions made in Lansing by the Governor and Republican Controlled Legislature.
So lets review, the Governor proposes that he be allowed to take over financially troubled school districts with an all-powerful educational manager (despite any evidence that this actually works) at the same time many districts (and not just poor urban districts) are facing dire financial circumstances as a result of the funding and policy decisions that he has made. And people say I'm crazy when I tell them Rick Snyder and his ilk are hellbent on destroying public education.
It's all from the corporate reform playbook - starve public schools of resources, impose ill-designed and miss-aligned assessments on students, blame the schools (and teachers and their unions) for these "poor results," takeover or cut funding to public schools, prop up charter schools operated by for-profit companies, and then make a bunch of money off the tax-payers while paying lip-service to caring about the kids (and if you're really reading from the playbook call education reform the "civil rights issue of today."). And all along the way ignore, dismiss, and attempt to discredit the experts in practice and research calling you out and telling you basically everything you're doing is wrong (I'll blog more on this particular topic soon).
Thankfully, these are just proposals and according to the Freep they were not received too well by anyone else in Lansing. And with sex scandals and road funding at the front of everyone's minds in Lansing hopefully these proposals will just fade away (much like the Governor's skunk works proposals back in 2013). But hope is never enough, so keep this on your radar and be ready to fight these proposals if they move forward.