Last year, the conservative Republican governor of Michigan Rick Snyder and the Republican-dominated legislature passed legislation strengthening the governor’s power to take over financially troubled municipalities and school districts. Michigan has had emergency manager legislation since 1990, but the 2011 law, Public Act 4, gave the governor additional powers to suspend democracy.
Democratic groups are now challenging Public Act 4, which enhanced the ease with which Governor Snyder could suspend democracy by replacing elected officials with an emergency manager. When opponents of the law presented 226,000 signatures on petitions to put Public Act 4 on the ballot and get a public referendum, the state board charged with making a decision split along partisan lines. As matters now stand, the petitions were rejected because they were presented in the wrong font size!
Donald Weatherspoon, the emergency manager in Muskegon Heights, a small district of 1,400 students, has decided to turn its three schools over to a charter company. He fired all 158 teachers and told them they could re-apply for their jobs. He is essentially dissolving the school district and handing it off to a private corporation to manage. Apparently there will be a school board, which he will name.
Weatherspoon decided that public education is the problem. By turning the schools into a charter district or three charter schools–whatever the private corporation wants–he will solve some unspecified problem.
One problem that will not be solved is the district’s debt of $12-14 million. The debt remains with the defunct district, not the new charter management.
And of course, Weatherspoon will choose the charter management.
Thus, the privatization and destruction of public education move forward in one tiny district. Next in line: Detroit.