The Republicans’ goal is to “try to find a way to educate students on the cheap”
Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog
Michigan Republicans have made their education “reform” plan quite clear: slash funding to traditional public schools, privatize schools to for-profit corporations, and knee-cap teachers to prevent them from collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits. This plan is being played out in vividly across the state, resulting in schools going bankrupt and, in some cases, actually closing their doors, leaving students and parents with no public schools in their community.
Michigan Democrats have been fighting the good fight to save our public schools system but, facing majorities in both houses of the legislature, their impact has been negligible. That doesn’t mean, however, that they do not have a plan. Over the past year, the House Democrats have been working through the Michigan House Democrats’ School Reform Task Force to develop a plan that helps our struggling schools and creates sustainable reform that prevents state takeovers, bankruptcies, and school closings while ensuring our kids get the best education they can receive.
Yesterday, they released their report (pdf) and held a press conference to talk about their work. The plan is the result of months of hearings where they heard from parents, teachers, administrators, and education experts from all over the state. The plan has three elements:
- Community education action plans formed by teams of educational professionals, parents, community leaders, and other experts to conduct a review of struggling schools and the creation of an aggressive turn-around plan designed to address the specific issues of that school.
- A study to learn what the real costs of educating our children are so that the specific needs of each unique school district are addressed and properly funded. This includes a constitutional amendment to guarantee that School Aid dollars are protected and used only in our K-12 public schools for education.
- Creation of a level playing field where all public schools, whether they are traditional, charter, or virtual, play by the same rules and are held to the same standards of accountability and transparency.
Here is the press conference, led by Task Force co-chairs Representatives Ellen Cogen Lipton (Huntington Woods) and Brandon Dillon (Grand Rapids):
[Our plan provides] real solutions for Michigan’s struggling schools…We don’t believe that Governor Rick Snyder’s Education Achievement Authority is the answer. Our report creates a three-step action plan that will improve our schools.
Representative Theresa Aben (Grand Ledge):
Our alternative to allowing schools to fail so that they can be placed under the Education Achievement Authority is to instead send a team into a struggling school to work with teachers, administrators, parents, and the community on a review which will lead to an aggressive action plan designed for the specific issues and challenges of that particular school… We can’t just tell our schools that they need to change and improve and then leave them to figure it out or face a takeover or shutdown… We cannot afford another Inkster, Buena Vista, or Albion… we need to act proactively.
Representative Collene Lamonte (Montague):
The experts that spoke out at our task force meetings all confirmed our belief that Michigan can’t approach school reform as a one-size-fits-all approach. School districts have different issues and needs. Some have more families living in poverty and rural districts have greater transportation costs. If we are going to help our struggling schools improve and if we are going to spend our taxpayer’s education dollars effectively, then we need to know the true costs of educating our students no matter where they go to school in Michigan…Since coming to the legislature, I haven’t a single study or document that really looks closely at the true cost of K-12 education… we need this education cost study to know where we stand so we can educate our kids and make effective and lasting school reforms.
Too many of our schools are struggling but they are not failing. The failure has been at the state level with policy makers who continue to disinvest in our schools leading them to situation they are in now. The administration’s approach to school reform was to meet in secret, behind closed doors, with no input from teachers, researchers, parents, and any other education experts. Their goal was to try to find a way to educate students on the cheap and further cut the investments we make in our kids’ education. I don’t think I can stress this contrast enough with our approach. Our approach was a data-driven, researched effort…that we believe resulted in a better, more sustainable school reform plan… Holding all public schools to the same accountability standards will allow us to know what educational methods work, what educational methods don’t work, and what settings each of them are more effective in… We can’t have transparency if that just means transparency for traditional public schools.
I’m thrilled that our Democratic Representatives are being proactive in putting forth a plan that helps preserve our public schools and involves actual education experts, teachers, administrators, and the community in which schools are located. We ALL have a stake in having a robust and successful public school system that has the best interests of the kids in mind rather than being seen as expenses, areas to cut costs, and, in many cases, to make a profit for corporations.
Stop back tomorrow for an interview with Rep. Lipton on the governor’s Education Achievement Authority and how it is woefully failing our most vulnerable children.