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Education is not like toothpaste

Will market competition really improve education?

As the policy debates over education “reform” continue, some of the key underlying issues – competing worldviews – are starting to emerge clearly. The first public introduction, last July, of Governor Snyder’s advisory panel on the school funding law provided one perspective (see upcoming article). They view their charge as making sure money follows the student, and their work relies on the idea that competition among many different kinds of education “providers” will result in the best outcomes.

Another perspective was offered in a blog post by noted education historian Diane Ravitch. In her post, she reprinted a reader’s comment which decried the “reform” direction of treating schools like businesses. In this model, schools that succeed will continue; those which fail to attract students will be shut down. The comment emphasized the personal and community cost of closing schools and rending relationships.

These differing views nicely bracket one of the essential conflicts underlying the whole school “reform” debate. The conflict is this: what system produces better outcomes – community decision-making, or market competition? The answer, of course, depends a lot on what kind of outcome you are trying to get.

Special sections: 

Getting clear about "profit" in our public schools

No matter what some people say, local public schools don't make a "profit." But many charter school operators do. Is that what's best for our kids?

After years of quiet, malign neglect, the issue of profit in our public schools has become a topic of public discussion. What's the problem? The problem is that we are starting to see a separation between the "school" and the companies that run the schools and hire the people who actually teach our kids. That is where the issue of profit raises its ugly head. Because where there's profit, there's also an incentive to use the political process to create more.

Departments: 

Action alert: Ditching the income tax is irresponsible!

[Update: HB 4001 was defeated on 23 Feb in a House floor vote, 52-55. In an unusual move, the House leadership went forward with a roll call vote despite not having enough votes to pass the bill. Twelve Republicans joined all but one Democrats in voting no. More coverage soon.]
Dear Friends,
 
House Bill 4001 would eliminate the state income tax. It could be voted upon this week in the House.
 
 
What was once a fringe idea actually could pass this week. Even though proposed to be cut over 40 years, we would all feel the impact immediately. The biggest cuts come right away, slashing $1.8 billion in the first two years.
Departments: 

Got Jargon? Technical terms defined

The education funding and policy world in Michigan is filled with jargon and technical terms that make the whole subject confusing for non-specialists. We'll use this document to try to clarify some of those terms for parents who want to gain a better understanding of the K-21 policy debates in our state.  

First look at Snyder's 2018 school aid budget

Governor Rick Snyder's proposed school aid budget for next year has been greeted with cautious optimism by public school advocates, and with good reason. All schools would receive an additional $50-$100 per pupil next year, funding earmarked for at-risk students would get a significant increase, and high schools would receive an extra $50 per student to cover their higher costs. But good ideas rarely make it through this Legislature unscathed. This budget in particular is likely to anger pro-privatization forces in the state, setting things up for a major battle over the coming months.

School Aid budget meets reality

The state's top economists met on Tuesday, and delivered the not-so-good news: state tax revenue, including school aid funding, was going to be lower than we thought, by almost $175 million this year and $160 million in the next year. Since the state budget has to be balanced, the proposed budgets for next year have to be "adjusted" accordingly.

DPS restructuring plans: Darn the people, full speed ahead!

[UPDATED with House-passed plan] After many years under state control - fourteen of the last seventeen - Detroit Public Schools has reached a critical juncture: the district and its emergency management projects that it will run out of money to operate its schools before the end of the current school year. Politicos of all stripes have known this day was coming, and there have been competing proposals on what to do about it. Last year, a coalition of Detroit leaders, parents and citizens - many of them bitter enemies - sat down and hammered out a compromise document that might lead the city’s schools out of the crisis. [See plan comparisons below.] It was a tenuous compromise, with many details remaining to be worked out (and some coalition members have a deep concern that local voices were not in fact heard). But it was a blueprint grudgingly accepted by the people on the spot. The reaction in Lansing? Dismissive statements and knowing smiles. A locally-developed plan wasn’t “on their agenda.”

Any of this sound familiar? Perhaps it bears some resemblance to how the people of Flint were treated when they complained about being poisoned by their municipal water supply? The underlying cause is the same: in both the executive branch and the legislature, what “the people” really want doesn’t matter half as much as what these exalted folks think is best for us, based on their own ideology or technocratic worldview. Detroit may be the most visible example right now, but as Flint proves, it was not the first and - unless we stand together - it will not be the last.

Legislative update: State control worked so well, let's do it again!

Dear Friends,
 

First look: Snyder FY16-17 school aid budget

It's February, and as most of you know that means it's Budget time in Lansing. (You were thinking hearts and chocolate?)

Governor Rick Snyder presented his recommended budget last week to a packed room. The focus, not surprisingly, was on the water crisis in Flint and the restructuring of Detroit Public Schools. But the budget determines what kind of education can be offered to every child in the state, and the important bits are often in the details. At first glance, parent advocates have reason to be modestly pleased, though the reality is not as pretty as the picture painted on the cover. What happens in the end, however, depends on what comes out after the document has been reflected in the legislative funhouse mirrors - which may or may not resemble the original.

A little bit more
The governor's executive budget recommendation is headlined by a modest increase in per-pupil funding. Districts at the current minimum level of $7,391 - which includes some 60% of all students - would receive $120 more per pupil for their general operating needs. Districts at or above the state maximum (currently $778 higher or $8,169) would get an increase of $60 per pupil.

For most students, then, that means a funding increase of 1.6% - just a tad more than the projected inflation rate of 1.2%. But a goodly number of students will get a smaller relative increase: 0.7% or less, lagging inflation.

Advocacy update: briefing on the 3rd grade reading bill

Dear Friends,

I know you've been hearing a lot from me about this "third grade reading" bill that's in the Michigan House of Representatives. Sometimes events don't give you the time to explain as much as you'd like about what is at stake. So, I wanted to take a moment to brief you on what we're doing.

When we work in Lansing, we try to focus on getting good policy passed - and we are willing to work with anyone who is ready to do right by our kids. This bill is an example: it's got good parts, and bad parts. We've been working to make the good parts better and get the bad parts out.

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In the news

MIPFS is working with parent group 482Forward, ACLU Michigan, and many school groups to ensure public funding goes to public schools.


MIPFS also contributed considerable background to this article, raising serious questions about the strategy of closing schools.


MIPFS presents to the State Board of Education


Founder of our Forest Hills affiliate testifies before State Board, 9 May 2013


Our op-ed on the EAA's failure and why the Parent Proposal embodied in HB 5268 is a better alternative. MLive.com, 9 Feb 2014


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