In 2000, Michigan voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot proposal that would have introduced vouchers for public school education by a 69-31 margin. Voters rejected vouchers back in 1978, as well. And it’s no surprise. The voucher system virtually guarantees that struggling schools are closed instead of improved and would give charter schools, the vast majority of which are for-profit in Michigan, an unfair advantage. This hasn’t stopped corporatist “education reformers” from trotting the idea out again and again. The now infamous “Skunk Works” project headed up by conservative corporatist Richard McLellan and staffed by people Gov. Snyder’s administration was secretly working behind the scenes in 2013 to promote an illegal voucher program.
More recently Republican Rep. Tim Kelly floated the idea of an “Education Opportunity Card”, a “voucher by another name.”
Today, conservative corporatist Republican Senator Patrick Colbeck is back at it again in an editorial in the Detroit New (of course.) He calls his plan an “education savings account” and it would allow third-parties to add to any individual student’s ESA. It is, of course, yet another “voucher by another name” program except that this one allows well-connected students to have more to spend than their less-well-connected, less fortunate classmates. Because, let’s be honest, a wealthy kid in the northern Detroit ‘burbs is WAY more likely to have a wealthy benefactor dropping some money in their ESA than a kid in Flint or Benton Harbor or Detroit.
Why is Colbeck promoting something that our state constitution actually forbids? Because, according to him, it will allow us to fix Detroit schools “without impacting the finances of other school districts in our state”. That’s dog whistle code for making sure schools in wealthy areas don’t have to take a hit. It’s also an essential component of the Republican corporatist playbook which is to ensure that corporations get all of the benefit from a state’s economic situation but never have to have any risk or play any significant role in making sure our schools and infrastructure are sound. ESAs are the answer, Colbeck says in his final paragraph, because they will solve all of Detroit schools’ problems without raising taxes. And by this he means, of course, without repealing the massive tax giveaways he and his colleagues lavished on Michigan corporations as soon as they took control of our state government in 2010.
Perhaps the most chilling sentence in his entire op-ed is this:
Do you share my belief that the students in Detroit are infinitely more valuable than the DIA?
Is Senator Colbeck seriously resurrecting the “take the DIA hostage” approach to solving our state’s financial crises? It’s insanity.
Colbeck starts his op-ed off by saying that the reasons for the financial crisis faced by Detroit schools “are varied and complex.” Several sentences later, however, he glibly suggests that the city of Detroit’s financial crisis was the result of “decades of mismanagement by the city of Detroit.” While there is no question there has been mismanagement in Detroit over the years – including during the times Emergency Managers have been in charge of the city and its schools, by the way – to suggest that is solely attributable to mismanagement displays a profound – and I’d say willful – level of ignorance. As “varied and complex” the causes of DPS’s problems are, the city of Detroit’s problems are even more varied and orders of magnitude more complex.
Make no mistake; the proposal being promoted by Senator Colbeck is nothing more than a voucher program pig with different corporatist lipstick smeared on its mouth. It’s illegal and it’s an insult to those who value public education.