Michigan’s constitution currently bans providing subsidies to private schools and the public currently opposes vouchers. However, little things like a state constitution and public sentiment are not enough to get in the way of Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to open his state’s public education system even further to corporate expansion. A gang of 20 has been meeting in secret with business leaders to figure out how to circumvent this rule, the WSWS reports.
The group includes several employees of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, as well as software company and charter school representatives. The group wants to increase the use of online learning so they can reduce the number of teachers. They are also proposing a voucher-like “Michigan Education Card,” a debit card families or students could use to pay for “tuition” at so-called “value schools.” They are called “value” schools because they are a great value to their owners, since they bring in $7,000 per pupil from the taxpayers, but only spend $5,000 per student, thus producing large profits. (While the state would be providing $7,000 per student to the “value” schools, the state average is actually closer to $10,000 per pupil). According to the group’s white paper, the debit card could also be used to pay for AP courses and exams, sports team fees, music classes and online classes, the Detroit News reported this week.
Not surprisingly, many of the companies that would profit from the change in rules were present at the meetings. Some of these included InfoReady Corp. of Ann Arbor, Vectorform LLC of Royal Oak, Billhighway Inc. of Troy, and the Huizenga Group of Grand Rapids. Bay Mills Community college, which already operates 43 Michigan charter schools, is another that stands to benefit from the plan. Bay Mills places a heavy emphasis on digital and distance learning (i.e., video conferencing, online classes, fewer flesh and blood teachers).
The meetings have been held in secret, in part because of the undemocratic nature of the plan and in part to avoid protest by a public that overwhelmingly opposes vouchers. However, their plans were exposed by former Michigan Teacher of the Year Paul Galbenski, who was offended by the conspiratorial nature of the talks. He said he quit after realizing “they were discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system.”
On Monday, the state’s school chief, Mike Flanagan, asked that the gang of 20 be disbanded and pulled a Department of Education employee off the group because of the lack of transparency and the perception that this was a backdoor route to vouchers, according to the Detroit News. After news of the secretive group had been exposed, Gov. Snyder tried to distance himself from the group, but continued to insist that he was open to good ideas, and it was all about improving education and providing better job opportunities.