The Mackinac Center, together with several nationally funded outside groups, intends to continue its effort to weaken and eventually end unionism in Michigan. After outlawing bargaining on a long list of subjects, giving emergency managers the right to void contracts, eliminating the charter school cap, and making Michigan a Right to Work state, the Center is moving on to new targets to erode union power.
The fewer subjects a union can advocate for its members, the less they need their union. Merit pay offers another opportunity to reduce a the services the MEA can offer its members, and gives them another reason to freeload. This, in spite of research and common sense showing that teachers improve in skill level as they gain in experience.
The parent trigger bill would give parents the power to have a school converted to a charter school. The bill is based on an ALEC model that has been enacted only in California, and has never actually converted a school. The organization pushing the California trigger law, Parent Revolution, was created by charter school operator Steve Barr.
Cyber Charter Schools
Michigan law (based on yet another ALEC model bill) now allows parents to take a school’s state funding to on-line schools, but the number of these schools is currently limited. The move underway to remove this cap is motivated by on-line school operators, primarily a company named K-12, Inc., are attracted by the potential $11 billion Michigan market.
Cyber charters use student teacher ratios ranging from 49 to one, to 100 to one, depending on price. In 2011, the US Army refused to induct cyber school graduates. Unlimited cyber charters was a major feature of the Oxford Foundation legislation proposed in 2013 by Governor Snyder.
Drafted by long time John Engler attorney and charter school law author Dick McLellan, the Oxford Foundation plan would avoid the Michigan Constitution’s voucher prohibition by passing school funding through public schools to corporations, including charters established by corporations, as well as cyber charter school companies. The plan has been described as “vouchers on steroids.”
An April 19, 2013 Detroit News story reported that the Oxford Foundation has created a secret work group called the “skunk works” to design a “value school” that uses long-distance video conferencing in order to get “higher value for less money.” The group has been ordered to avoid public scrutiny by using private email accounts. Its aim is to invent a system to avoid the Michigan Constitution’s ban on using public funds for private education. The story says:
“The initiative is “very unnerving” given the history of Lansing lawyer Richard McLellan, a work group member, in pursuing vouchers, said John Austin, president of the State Board of Education, who was unaware of the “skunk works” project. A voucher system lets parents use tax dollars to choose between private and public schools — something prohibited by the state Constitution.
“This is disturbing to hear of secret group meetings,” Austin said. “That reflects the ideology and political agenda of the creation of a for-profit and parallel enterprise market for schools. Part of its goal is to take down the education establishment: superintendents, school boards and teachers unions.”
The only person with a background in education, Paul Galbenski, Michigan’s 2011 Educator of the Year, quit the group.
Education Achievement Authority
The current bill would extend the state’s takeover authority beyond the current 15 Detroit schools to the entire state, although it has been in effect for less than a year and has yet to succeed in improving any schools.
Banning Public Sector Bargaining
In an email exchange obtained by Progress Michigan in 2011, Rep. Tom McMillin, chair of the House Education Committee, discusses the wording of Senate Bill 7 with three Mackinac Center staffers. SB7, later enacted, now requires school employees pay a set amount toward their healthcare coverage and forbids them from bargaining this topic.
This exchange shows that in conflict with its IRS 501(c)(3) status, the Mackinac Center engages in lobbying (an IRS investigation is currently underway). It also reestablishes that the Center’s “goal” isn’t to help balance school budgets or serve any other public policy purpose, rather its advocacy for public policy is a weapon it wields to weaken unions. And, most importantly, it shows that the Center’s next target is to outlaw public sector collective bargaining in Michigan.
Public sector bargaining is currently illegal in 12 states, and is regulated, most often heavily regulated, in an equal number of states. For example, in one such state, Tennessee, public sector bargaining is allowed, but not for teachers. Not only can Tennessee teacher unions not bargain, they also are barred from giving to political campaigns or even lobbying.
There is a growing expectation that a bill to ban public sector bargaining will receive attention in the 2014 lame duck session.
Monetizing Public Schools
This ban is not the Mackinac Center’s final target. In a 2001 publication, it showcases a plan that it attributes to conservative economist Milton Friedman. “Under this plan, current government-run schools would be converted to privately run schools.” This would be accomplished by offering “universal unregulated vouchers of minimal but equal value to all parents…”
In a 2011 interview with the Livingston Daily, Mackinac founder Joe Olson confirmed this goal. “He doesn’t believe government should be involved in education…” On June 7, 2013, Mackinac Center Adjunct Scholar Gary Wolfram was interviewed on WKAR’s Off the Record Program, and said he would privatize the entire public school system.
Such a major change in public policy isn’t unknown nationally: on March 14, 2013, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a private school voucher bill. The process used to make this change has remarkable similarity to the Lame Duck events in Michigan.
In Alabama, the voucher language was inserted into a bill in its last stages of development, by a conference committee charged with settling on the different versions of the bill passed by both legislative houses. Neither version included the voucher language.
In March 2013, the Republican-controlled Alabama Supreme Court overturned a lower court order, putting the voucher plan into effect. 17 states now allow vouchers.
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