Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is closing down public schools in two districts in Michigan and turning the schools over to charter operators.
Michigan has a draconian law that permits the governor to appoint an emergency manager whenever a municipality or school district or other governmental entity is in financial distress. All democratically elected officials are superseded by the emergency manager. Democracy comes to an end. The emergency manager has a free hand to do as he or she wishes. Decisions are made by diktat, with no need to consult with the community whose children are involved. So much for choice.
As context, bear in mind that the governor cut the budget for public schools while giving big tax breaks to corporations. Under its present leadership, Michigan lacks the political will to support public education in every school district. As Erik Kain of Forbes pointed out last year, Governor Snyder cut support for public schools as the same time that he cut business taxes–costing the state nearly $2 billion–by 86 percent.
In Muskegon Heights and in Highland Park, the emergency managers decided that the best way to pay down the debt in the school district was to hand the public schools off to charter companies. The district remains as a shell whose only purpose is to use property taxes to pay off the debt.
That’s how public education will die in two districts. There will surely be more. Fifty school districts in the state are running deficits, and emergency managers have been appointed in three of them–these two and in Detroit.
Meanwhile, two for-profit charter companies have applied to run the schools in Muskegon Heights. According to a local article, they don’t have a very impressive record in Michigan:
Only two charter school operators have applied to take over the schools — the Leona Group, which operates 19 schools in Michigan, and Mosaica Education, which operates six schools in Michigan.
That has some educators concerned.
Only one school among the two charter operators is ranked above the 50th percentile on the state’s top-to-bottom list, which is based primarily on state test scores. Nineteen of the schools are ranked below the 30th percentile, and 14 are ranked below the 20th percentile.
No worry, the state says the goal here is educational excellence and eliminating the debt.
“This is about providing an excellent educational opportunity for students in Muskegon Heights. That’s what the parents are looking for. This allows that to continue while at the same time addressing the crippling financial situation,” said Terry Stanton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Treasury.
The emergency manager in Muskegon Heights laid off every employee, and the union was dissolved. Teachers in the district had an average annual salary of almost $50,000. They can reapply for their jobs with the charter operators, but may not have the same salary or benefits.
The Detroit Free Press saw this maneuver for what it is: a gamble with the future of 2,000 children and a clever way to suspend democracy and privatize the schools.
A recent study found that Highland Park, Michigan, is one of least fairly funded districts in the United States. The emergency manager plans to select a charter operator by September. No private operator has been named yet.
As I write this story together, I have this unpleasant sensation. I think my blood is boiling.