Michigan Parents for Schools – story from new PAA affiliate

Michigan public school supporters have just come out of a bruising lame duck session of the state legislature that promises even greater battles to come next year. I think our experience may be helpful to other states because of the common ideological framework behind all these attacks on public education.

You may have heard about some of the damaging, and in come cases bizarre, bills that became law in the last days of the session. Among those which impact education:  “right to work” was signed into law, barring unions from collecting an agency fee from employees covered by collective bargaining; elimination of the local “personal property tax” which is actually a tax on business equipment, without any guarantee of replacement revenue for school districts and municipalities (this is important in a state dependent on manufacturing); and in a bizarre turn, a law which would allow those with a permit to carry concealed weapons to apply for a waiver so that they might carry those weapons in what are now “no carry zones” including schools, places of worship, university classrooms, and more. This last measure was adopted only one day before the terrible events in Newtown, CT.

We did eek out a couple of important “victories,” in that we were able to stop two damaging pieces of legislation from coming to a vote. Proposals to codify a state-wide school district empowered to take over the “bottom 5%” of all schools in the state and charter an unlimited number of new schools, and another to implement a version of “parent trigger” laws here, both died in the legislature for lack of support even among the ideologically-driven majority. But it was a very, very near thing: the “Education Achievement Authority” bills were the number 2 priorities for both the Governor and the House Speaker during the lame duck session.

MIPFS has been working for some years to build a coalition of local parent groups who could work in concert to shape state legislation. (In Michigan, the state legislature has granted itself great power over K-12 education, at the expense of locally elected school boards.) This last battle in lame duck mobilized school and parent groups as never before, and it was because of that coalition (of which MIPFS is a member) that we were able to block legislation that had been expected to pass easily. [http://tinyurl.com/cphmele and http://tinyurl.com/d3pqwdd] We are now preparing to expand our parent coalition to work with educators and school officials on the battles yet to come.

The proposal for the state-wide “recovery” district was not made primarily out of concern for struggling schools and their students. That bill would have provided the infrastructure for companion proposals which would dramatically expand the kinds of charter schools that can be created and to “unbundle” K-12 education so that it resembles an “a la carte” menu – with funding flowing to various entities, including charters managed by for-profits, based on what classes a student takes. [For more information, see our action alert here: http://www.miparentsforschools.org/node/178, as well as background stories: http://www.miparentsforschools.org/node/182,
http://www.miparentsforschools.org/node/183, and a Reuters story on similar proposals in several states http://reut.rs/Ran5z8]

Public school officials are finally waking up to the danger and speaking out: here is an article by the superintendent of Bloomfield Hills schools, one of the most well-to-do suburban Detroit districts: http://tinyurl.com/c9mp52z

We are working hard to strengthen the parent voice here in Michigan. Our weakness so far is that we have been so busy trying to stop a slew of damaging “reforms” (some call it the “whack-a-mole strategy” – see an overview here: http://www.miparentsforschools.org/node/164) that we have not built a coherent vision of what we are for and how to get there. I’m pushing that conversation right now. We hope that working with other communities through PAA will help us identify success stories elsewhere which can serve as examples for meaningful and lasting improvements in our community-governed public schools here in Michigan.

Steve Norton
Executive Director
Michigan Parents for Schools

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