Education, Michigan Democrats, Michigan Republicans — June 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

UPDATED: Republicans pass bill to dissolve struggling small school districts and destroy bipartisanship in the process


I do believe the Democrats were told to go Cheney themselves

In the dead of night last night, Michigan House Republicans passed a bill that would allow the state government to dissolve small school districts facing financial crises. The bills, House Bills 4813 (and a companion bill 4815), was originally introduced in a bipartisan fashion by Democrat David Rutledge of Ypsilanti and Republican Bill Rogers of Livingston County and looked quite a bit different than the legislation they passed last night.

I knew something was up when Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor said on Facebook, “Getting ready to go back for a midnight session to pass bills granting Lansing the power to dissolve financially strapped school districts.”

What transpired was clearly ugly. The original version of HB 4813 did not restrict the process to small school districts and made sure that educators in the districts being dissolved would be able to continue teaching kids in the newly-formed school districts. When Rep. Rutledge co-sponsored it, he did so “in an effort to come to the negotiating table and work on meaningful reforms in a bipartisan way”. However, it’s clear that, last night, any hope of bipartisanship was kicked in the teeth by Republicans. The bill they actually passed restricts the ability for the state to dissolve school districts to those with 2,500 students or less which basically makes it specific to Buena Vista and Inkster school districts, not Pontiac or other larger districts which are also insolvent. It also has no protections for the teachers who work in the dissolved districts.

Republican Pete Lund was characteristically offensive in his remarks about the changes.

“The management of these schools was so grossly negligent that they should never try to get another job in education,” said state Rep. Peter Lund, R-Shelby Township. “The first thing we have to do is worry about the kids in these two schools. I can’t believe that we’re talking more about adults than kids.”

It’s rather bizarre to blame the financial difficulties of these school districts on the teachers who teach there. They have no control over the way the school budgets are formed or spent. They are simply employees trying to earn a living doing what they love. Not in the world that Pete Lund and his teacher-hating Republican colleagues live in, however. For them, there isn’t a problem in Michigan schools that can’t be blamed on teachers.

The changes to the bill forced Rep. Rutledge to withdraw his sponsorship. He released the following statement:

My goal with this legislation was to help the parents, the teachers and, most importantly, the children of these struggling districts move forward so those kids could continue receiving the education they deserve. It saddens me deeply that I have to oppose these bills and remove my name from the sponsorship of House Bill 4813.

Democrat Sam Singh was more pointed in his criticism. Referring to the fact that they pulled an all-nighter to rush through the bills so they could take their summer break, he said:

We have two school districts that can’t open and you’re not allowing us the time to explore every single option on the table … just because some people have made plans for vacation.

Democrat Colleen LaMonte echoed Singh’s comment:

Apparently, some of my colleagues felt it more important to go on vacation rather than take the time to get something right on such an important issue. I can’t think of anything more crucial than making sure our children get the education they deserve so they can make their way in the world. These bills will only add to the turmoil our kids have had to deal with, and I cannot support that.

So, there you have it. The Republican dismantling of public education in Michigan continues. They have stripped funding, knee-capped educators, and now are working to get rid of the small, pesky school districts by forming them into larger ones. The only think left to do after that is to privatize them and their mission will be accomplished.

As my pal Amy Kerr Hardin explains, all of this is nothing but a Band-Aid on a gaping wound:

While they can pat themselves on the back for ensuring this isn’t seen as another un-funded mandate to the receiving district, it in no way addresses the underlying systemic funding problems with Michigan’s schools. And of course, none of this serves the debt-load of the dissolved district — it still exists for that community. Those legacy costs don’t magically disappear. Additionally, it is little more than buying into the myth that consolidation saves money.

This is reactionary lawmaking — the kind that inevitably leads to tragic unforeseen consequences … and more bad laws.

Something should probably be said about what happens after the schools are dissolved: they will be broken up and combined with neighboring districts. Neither school district has any say in the matter. This isn’t making the district next to Inkster very warm and fuzzy:

Greg J. Baracy, superintendent of Wayne-Westland Schools, which borders Inkster, said his 12,600-student district does not have to room to absorb students from Inkster.

“If the Legislature is moving in that direction it would be nice for them to have discussions with local superintendents as to how this would be pulled off,” he said. “They haven’t thought this out.”

Election Day 2014 cannot get here fast enough.

UPDATE:Republican House Education Committee Chairwoman Lisa Lyons was even more offensive that Pete Lund. During the debate about teachers being allowed to continue to educate their students, she called teachers “hogs”. “Pigs get fat,” she said. “Hogs get slaughtered.”