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Our take on developments in school funding and policy.

Letter from Oakland: reflections on NPE 2017

As I write this, the fourth annual meeting of the Network for Public Education is coming to a close. NPE is a national group dedicated to fighting for local public education, and was founded just a few years ago by education luminaries like historian Diane Ravitch and teacher/writer Anthony Cody. The meeting, in Oakland, CA, drew hundreds of education advocates from all around the country and featured panels on everything from building advocacy coalitions to the role of technology in education.

It seems to me, though, that one thread running throughout the conference was the need to continue to address issues of race and class in the struggle over the future of public education.

Departments: 

Back-door vouchers for the well-heeled?

Hypocrisy alert: Vouchers for the well-to-do

Among the first pieces of legislation out of the gate after the Legislature's summer recess is a package of bills in the state Senate creating an "enhanced" Michigan Education Savings Plan. This proposal would allow parents to make tax deductible contributions to an account which could be used to pay for K-12 school expenses. (The plan would be an addition to the existing plan which covers post-secondary education.) The bills - SB 544 through SB 549 - were sponsored variously by Senators Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Twp), Phil Pavlov (R-St Clair), Judy Emmons (R-Sheridan), and Mike Green (R-Mayville). The Senate Fiscal Agency summary of the bills as reported from committee can be found here.

Sounds OK, right? A little tax break for setting aside money for those athletic fees? Well, hold on to your wallet. The SFA estimates that the cost to set up the program could reach $100 million, with indeterminate costs after that - on top of tax revenue losses from the deduction. Families could deduct up to $5000 (single return) or $10,000 (joint return) of contributions per account.

Do they really expect parents to believe that they would spend $100 million of taxpayer money and offer deductions of up to $10,000 in contributions just so we could pay for sports fees and field trips?

K-12 Budget Update: Saving face, at a cost

Well, they cut a deal. In return for a nebulous agreement on a "framework" for shifting new public school employees entirely to a 401k-style retirement plan, Gov. Snyder was allowed to rejoin negotiations over the budget. Literally the same day, a House/Senate conference committee passed a "compromise" version of the School Aid budget for fiscal 2018. As you might expect, it's a mixed bag.

Budget: House & Senate fire their first shots

[UPDATE: Budget bills as passed by each chamber] Before the April break, the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on school aid issued their alternatives to the budget proposed by Gov. Snyder in February. As expected, many of the innovative provisions included in the Governor's draft have been stripped out of the subcommittee versions. Both legislative versions manage to offer higher foundation allowances while also spending less, in the case of the Senate, than the executive recommendation. The House's proposal is only marginally higher than Gov. Snyder's version. When things like that happen, it's time to check your wallet. We've got the details.

Uncommon Core: your Legislature at work, but for whom?

Our state, like our nation, has something of a split personality on education standards. On the one hand, we all seem to like the idea of going farther, higher, more rigorous. On the other hand, we're suspicious of things "not invented here" and especially things that are not under our own control. Of course, it also depends on what we mean by "our own" control.

A bill now in the Legislature is being presented as banning the Common Core, something appealing to many folks concerned with education. But what's the real motive here?

The human cost of the "technocrats"

How many times do Michigan residents have to absorb disastrous policies before we decide a change of course is in order?

How many times do high-handed technocratic systems that usurp elected control have to fail before we demand a government "of, by, and for the people"? These are the questions that come front and center to anyone who has read the latest revelations about the Flint water disaster and has even a passing familiarity with our state's other experiments with technocratic central control. While we at MIPFS focus on education, the implications are much wider: how do we ensure that our policymakers serve and protect the people of our state? This is a crucial question to keep in mind as we go into an election year.

Scrooged: A Lansing Parable

As Michigan Parents for Schools begins its tenth year, and since we're in the holiday season, I thought it might be a good moment for a retrospective on what has been done to public education over the last decade. Think of me as the "Ghost of Policy Present," offering to introduce you to the "Ghost of Legislation Past" and a tour down memory lane. Please stay for the tour.

Our five ideas for moving Michigan public ed forward

The new state Superintendent of Public Education, Brian Whiston, invited a number of state organizations - including MIPFS - to make presentations to the State Board of Education. He asked the groups to offer the three to five ideas which would help Michigan become a "top 10" state in educational outcomes.


MIPFS executive director Steve Norton and board member Elizabeth Welch presented our "five key ideas" at yesterday's SBE meeting. An outline of our presentation appears below; attached at the end of the article are PDFs of the documents we shared with the State Board members and MDE officials.

MI Parents: Keep the Public in Public Education

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:

Preface

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

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.

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