[I drafted the message below for Parents Across America, the national parent advocacy group of which MIPFS is a state affiliate. We thought it would also be appropriate to publish it here, as a reminder of why strong community-governed public schools are so important.]
As we think of the tragic death at police hands of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., our first reaction must be as parents: sorrow and anger. Sorrow because a promising life has been cut so cruelly short, and anger because his death was both unnecessary and sickeningly predictable.
Watching from outside, however, we have also seen in Ferguson problems that plague our nation still.
Proposals for organization & funding of K-12 education in Michigan
Prepared for State Board of Education, 13 May 2014
Pres. Austin, Supt. Flanagan, and members of the Board:
Michigan parents value their local public schools and appreciate the hard work being done by all those who bring life to public education. No institution is perfect, and local public education is no exception. But parents are painfully aware of the struggles faced by our schools, driven in part by policy decisions at the state level - which have reduced our direct investment in K-12 education - and in part by changes in the Michigan economy, which have put our families and communities under tremendous stress.
Michigan public education is not "broken;" it has weathered tremendous blows over the last 15 years that have reduced its ability to serve all students as well as we want it to. Any proposals to change the structure and funding of our public schools must address this fundamental fact. >>>>Click below to read more
Steven Norton, executive director of Parents Across America affiliate Michigan Parents for Schools, and member of the PAA Board of Directors, was the 2014 recipient of the David McMahon Human Rights Award given by the Michigan Education Association. The McMahon award is given annually to recognize "individuals or groups outside the MEA which distinguish themselves by courageously accepting the challenge of moral and ethical leadership in the field of human and civil rights."
After a bruising vote in the House, the Michigan Senate is slated to take up the latest version of HB 4369, the state school takeover bill. Most people, including us, have been calling this the "EAA bill," but that's a misnomer. The latest version of the bill doesn't even mention the Education Achievement Authority by name, though it would allow the EAA to continue operating and even expand.
What the bill does do, however, is to cement in place a state school takeover system originally rushed into law over four years ago in a desperate attempt to win a share of Federal "race to the top" funding. (We didn't get any.) At the time, everyone agreed that the provisions being rushed into law were less than half-baked, and lawmakers promised to re-visit the provisions and replace them with sound policy. Naturally, that never happened.
But the EAA is still an important part of this story, mainly because of the lessons it - and other examples of state intervention - should have taught us about what happens under state takeover. What are some of those lessons?
This is how a legislator described a close colleague and dear friend of mine: "one rogue school board member." The school board member in question is Elizabeth Welch Lykins, trustee of the East Grand Rapids Public Schools, committed proponent of strong public education, and member of the MIPFS board of directors. Though she was not singled out by name, every person knew who was being described.
"One rogue school board member." The phrase itself is designed to belittle and marginalize. But it fails in that attempt, because it is so disconnected from the truth.
Strategies to turn around troubled schools need to address specific local challenges and be owned by the local school and district community
With the recent push to pass a bill on the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) before the winter 2013 legislative break, it’s more important than ever that parents start talking about real alternatives that work. For the last year, MIPFS has worked with parent groups, educational leaders and lawmakers to develop a positive program that will actually help struggling schools. This article outlines our proposal.
Existing law does not provide enough assistance to local schools in diagnosing and solving their difficulties. To compound the problem, the law provides for complete state takeover as the only remedy for schools which fail to improve. The parents’ alternative is based on these core ideas:
Any effective school improvement strategy must focus on the particular circumstances of the school or district that is a candidate for intervention, and be tailored to address local needs and shortcomings.
Diagnosis of educational problems is best done by experienced and disinterested specialists, but the solutions to those problems will be most durable if they are hammered out and implemented by all relevant stakeholder groups.
Unilateral state intervention must be a last resort, and must be focused solely on implementing the changes identified as necessary in the independent review.
The goal of state intervention for school improvement is not to take over management of the school but to identify and see implemented educational and organizational changes, which are critical to the long-term growth of student achievement.
Gov. Rick Snyder claims that that he and his administration have been investing in kids, that there has been “no reduction” in state support for K-12 education.
He says that “it’s not about partisanship, let’s just do the right thing.” We agree with those sentiments: support for strong, community-governed public education should not be a partisan issue, and we should definitely “do the right thing.” We’re still waiting for the governor to propose, and the legislature to pass, a budget that does right by the children of Michigan.
Gov. Snyder then goes on to say that people who argue he’s been cutting K-12 education “have fact issues.” But it is the governor’s facts which need a second look.
Bottom line: Gov. Snyder’s budgets took advantage of the depth of the recession to dig the hole even deeper in the first year to accomplish business tax cuts and other changes, allowing the weak recovery in subsequent years to look much better by comparison – but only if you ignore what things were like before or what things might have been like today had different choices been made. Between the end of earmarked school aid revenue from the Michigan Business Tax, and the diversion of funds to pay for colleges and universities, K-12 schools lost over $1.1 billion, or nearly $740 per pupil, each year because of the changes Gov. Snyder pushed through in 2011.
MIPFS and affiliated groups’ statement on the latest “skunk works” revelations
The evidence is piling up that the Snyder administration was closely involved in the effort to construct an alternative “education” system whose top priority is to minimize public school costs, not improve education. According to emails obtained by the Detroit News, top advisers to Gov. Snyder helped put the so-called “skunk works” group together or approved of its creation as early as September 2012.
From the parent perspective, one of the most disturbing discoveries was a statement by Gov. Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. “Frankly, there’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing the education community in a fratz,” Muchmore wrote not long after the “skunk works” story first broke.
Thousands of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens who care about quality public education expressed their outrage at the secrecy and narrow vision of the “skunk works” project. Since when did we become the enemy? What kind of distorted lens must members of the Snyder administration be using that they see in concerned parents an opponent to be overcome rather than a constituency to be heard?
We released this open letter on the occasion of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s visit to southeast Michigan. Sec. Duncan visited two schools in Detroit, one of them an EAA school, and the Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti. Our letter points out the conflict between the educational values Sec. Duncan has espoused, and which are the foundation of Perry’s High/Scope model, and the urgent direction of education policy in Michigan.
Open Letter to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Dear Secretary Duncan,
On behalf of Michigan parents and others concerned about public education here, I would like to welcome you to our state. Michigan is home to some of the best ideas and programs in education as well as some of the most serious challenges our schools, and communities, face. We welcome your effort to learn more about the hopes we cherish and the obstacles we confront in our local efforts to educate our children.
Unfortunately, I fear that your tour may leave you with an incorrect impression of what is in fact happening in our state. The current direction of state policy is not to offer an excellent education to all children. Instead, key Michigan policy makers have adopted an extremely narrow and barren notion of “education” and have focused on how to deliver it at the lowest cost possible. These proposals take us in precisely the wrong direction.
Testimony on the Fiscal 2014 School Aid Executive Budget proposal
Prepared for House Appropriations subcommittee on School Aid, 19 February 2013
Drawing on the data we used in an earlier article about the Governor’s budget proposal – Eleven percent increase in schools since 2009-10? Not so much. – MIPFS testified before the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid earlier this week. Our purpose was to point out that the executive budget proposal did not represent an increase in funding available for school operations, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Funding levels were actually much lower than in previous periods, especially after taking inflation into account, despite the smaller number of pupils.
MIPFS called for a significant, real investment in preschool through secondary education so that our public schools could do the job we have asked of them.