Michigan Republicans earn their sweet, sweet corporatist cash by screwing over Detroit school kids in 12-hour session


“Sit, dog. Sit. Good legislator! Have a check.”

NOTE: This post has been updated to clarify the changes that have been made with regard to collective bargaining contracts.

In the dog training world, dogs are often trained using delicious treats. When a dog does what it’s told to do, it gets a treat as a reward. Then, over time, the treats are withheld until the dog does what it’s told to do automatically. Only after the dog does its trick does it get its reward. Intermittent rewards are the key to training the dog to behave reliably.

This is exactly the modus operandi of legislative corporate benefactors like the DeVos family in Michigan. They dole out campaign contributions in order to get the legislators they are training to do their bidding until they begin to associate doing what they’re told to do with cash rewards. Then the corporatist funders begin withholding the contributions until AFTER the legislators have done what they are told. If they step out of line, the money never comes.

Last night, in a marathon 12-hour session, Michigan Republicans worked their asses off for that reward; that sweet, sweet corporatist cash. On a party line vote of 55-53, House Republicans passed a bill to “rescue” Detroit Public Schools (DPS) and, in the process, screwed over public schools, screwed over teachers, and gave a big, sloppy, lucrative wet kiss to the for-profit charter corporations.

The new legislation, which is expected to sail through the Senate and then be signed into law by Gov. Snyder, breaks up DPS into one entity that holds all the debt run up by the state overseers for the past decade and another that is tasked to educate kids. But it does so much more and most of it is a continuation of the effort to destroy public education in our state’s largest city.

Here’s a partial list of what the legislation does:

  • Loans DPS $150 million to get the new district started. It’s a loan, not direct funding. Also, of the $150 million, only $25 million can be used for maintenance and to fix schools that suffer from massive mold and vermin infestations, crumbling buildings, and other scandalously poor physical conditions that DPS teachers brought to the nation’s attention in the past year by staging “sick outs” to bring the situation to light.
  • Requires an election of a new school board in November.
  • Does away with the concept of a Detroit Education Commission that would oversee DPS and control when and where new schools – including charter schools – can open. Instead, it puts in place a toothless “advisory” board that will “produce reports on where schools are most needed”. The charter school industry will, of course, be well represented on this board.
  • Allows for the use of unaccredited teachers in Detroit schools. Not ALL schools. Detroit schools only.
  • Requires the establishment of an “A-F accountability system” that assigns a letter grade to schools. Any public school that receives an “F” for three years running will be closed. Any charter that receives an “F” for three years running will be allowed to “reconstitute” itself for an undetermined period of time. In other words, harsh accountability for public schools and virtually no accountability for charters, most of which are for-profit.
  • Requires that all collective bargaining agreements with unions that expire on June 30th are renegotiated with the new school board and not the current Emergency Manager.
  • Requires the new school board to evaluate school principals and to decide which ones they want to keep and which ones to fire.
  • Requires teachers and administrators to be evaluated based largely on student performance irrespective of outside forces that impact student achievement and performance.
  • Puts in place harsh punitive measures for teachers that engage in “sick outs”.
  • Ends the odious Education Achievement Authority.

House Democrats, of course, are livid. They released a statement excoriating their Republican colleagues for passing the bill. Here’s House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel:

House Republicans are playing games with the Detroit Public Schools, and the children of Detroit are the ones who will lose. House Republicans are forcing the closure of public schools while allowing failing charter schools to proliferate. Republicans are making it clear who they serve: charter school operators, not children. House Republicans have again turned their backs on the bipartisan solution reached in the Senate that brought together educators and administrators, business and community leaders. By throwing money at the Detroit Public Schools without enacting needed reforms, Republicans are wasting taxpayer dollars. We can’t support a plan like this.

Democratic House Education Committee member Adam Zemke was even more direct:

“We only asked for two major things: pay the DPS debt that state appointees rung up and for some type of commission that provides real accountability for taxpayer funded schools,” he said. “This isn’t accountability. It’s a joke.”

Zemke also acknowledged the role played by the DeVos family:

This is a result of some folks on the west side of the state who were born with silver spoons in their mouths who want to screw over a city with young black boys and girls.

Knowing that the DeVos money will now flow again into their bank accounts, House Republicans heartily patted themselves on the back:

“This is a plan put forward to save education in Detroit and at the same time avoid what would be a disastrous bankruptcy. It protects taxpayers and makes sure this system stays sound for years to come,” said Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant. He accused Democrats of withholding support for political purposes.

State Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland, said the plan addresses the operational debt, freeing up revenue that will go back into classrooms, provide startup costs, and restores local control to an elected school board.

“And there will be some oversight for the taxpayers who do not live in Detroit,” she said.

Great Lakes Education Project – a pet project of Betsy DeVos to promote for-profit charter schools and to destroy public education in Michigan – was quick to praise their pets bought-and-paid-for legislators:

“Despite efforts by some of the elites and big city bosses who believe they know what is best for children — it is a time-honored truth that parents and families are best at choosing educational opportunities that best meet their needs of their children,” said Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, a west Michigan-based advocacy group for charter schools.

First praise, then the cash reward. Our legislators are as trainable as any dog. And, last night, they proved it.

UPDATE: As Hector Solon pointed out to me on Twitter, the corporatist front group Mackinac Center, another DeVos-funded entity, is quite familiar with this concept. During his time as the managing editor of their blog Michigan Capitol Confidential, Ken Braun literally wrote a post about this titled “Politician Puppy Training“. In it, he makes the dog training analogy as explicit as the title suggests:

Almost everyone loves puppies, at least until they start making messes on the carpet. With every puppy comes the responsibility of training it to become “man’s best friend.” The same can be said about legislators. While they are, of course, not dogs, they do need to be trained in order to be turned in to a voter’s best friend. While most go to Lansing or Washington to do the right thing, many will end up making messes that result in less liberty.

Training legislators, as with training puppies, must be done with care and common sense. An external system of rewards and punishments is used to guide the puppy toward doing the right thing.

I thought it would be worth pointing that out just in case anyone thought I was off base with my analogy. Clearly I am not.