A couple of weeks ago, I spent about 20 quality minutes in the Green Room of Fox News Detroit with Nolan Finley, the Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit News. In that short time, I got to listen to him debate charter schools with another guest. His main and emphatic argument, one echoed by most charter school proponents, is that charter schools are necessary because they force the public schools to compete and, in the process, become better.
This is a seductive argument and I can understand why it appeals to conservatives and maybe even some non-conservatives. The capitalistic model is a strong part of our American culture.
I personally don’t agree with this. I personally believe that the public school systems are US, not some independent group that must be forced to be better. If we wish our school systems to be better, it is incumbent on US to make them better. They are run by school boards elected by the public. Our children go there. They are in our communities. They are as American as a city council, a village board or any other public entity. Our schools embody the principle of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.
But, again, I do understand the conservative drive to make public schools compete in order to force them to be better. It certainly takes the pressure off of us as citizens from having to be involved in the solution.
There is little question that Nolan Finley carries an enormous amount of water for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. On the topic of charter schools, his rhetoric matches up point by point with their rhetoric.
But there is a 1,000 pound gorilla in the middle of this debate that the conservatives seem completely comfortable ignoring. It’s a fact so obvious that it requires little description but it is simultaneously a fact that never gets spoken about.
Michigan Republicans want the public school systems to compete with charter school systems yet they took $1 billion from the school system this year and for every year going forward.
It’s an astonishing level of cognitive dissonance that allows the same people that literally robbed the public school system of a billion dollars to pay for a corporate tax cut to believe that this will somehow allow struggling schools to compete.
In Benton Harbor, the teachers union, the MEA, delivered a truckload of schools supplies to teachers who didn’t even have pencils and paper for their students. School systems across the state face bankruptcy and the prospect of an Emergency Manager. This is blamed on corrupt administrators, greedy, parasitic teachers and budget-breaking unionized workers. It is never blamed on the fact that we are increasingly starving our public schools of the resources they need to exist and flourish.
When someone tries to tell you that charter schools are the answer to our educational system’s problems and that outsourcing the education of our children is going to help bring our most poverty-stricken public schools to the same level as the school systems in wealthy districts, ask them this. Ask them how they expect public school systems to compete after they took one billion dollars away from them during an economic recession.
Ask them that.
Adding…Why am I writing about this now? Because yesterday the House passed a bill that lifts the caps on charter schools in Michigan. Today it goes to the Senate where they will likely pass it as well and then it’s off to the Governor who will, of course, sign it into law.
UPDATE: As of 1:15 pm Thursday, December 15, 2011, the Senate passed the bill to remove the cap on charter schools in Michigan and it now goes to Governor Rick Snyder who will be sure to sign it.