EAA school takeover legislation re-introduced

 

Months after similar bills died in the Legislature’s lame duck session, Michigan House Republicans have reintroduced legislation to create a statewide “takeover” district called the Education Achievement Authority, or EAA.

MEA members are urged to contact their lawmakers and urge them to oppose the EAA legislation. Click here to find contact information for your legislators.

House Bill 4369, introduced Tuesday by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, would allow the EAA to take over up to 50 public schools deemed by arbitrary and flawed rankings to be in the state’s bottom 5 percent. It would also allow the EAA to create new charter schools within two miles of a so-called “failing” school.

HB 4369 would allow Lansing bureaucrats to assume many of the responsibilities currently entrusted to local school board members, parents, teachers and education support staff — all while essentially eliminating the time-honored tradition of “neighborhood schools.”

The bill fails to include an in-depth audit of existing issues in both the school building and district that are causing the lack of performance.  Rather than finding and addressing specific problems through audits, the bill simply assumes that a board and bureaucrats appointed by the governor can simply do a better job than those already doing the work – regardless of the challenges they face.

The bill removes local communities’ ability to establish education policy, direct curriculum and manage community resources, by shifting power to state and federal bureaucrats. It also does not provide any substantive local controls to establish standards, create missions and goals, monitor performance, or audit finances of new schools created by this legislation.

Furthermore, the bill attacks the collective bargaining and employment rights of school employees in buildings that are put under EAA control.  Employees would not be permitted to bargain with the EAA, existing contracts could be ignored, and mass involuntary transfers of employees are possible. And those employees would not be part of the MPSERS retirement system, taking more members out of the pension plan and further destabilizing it.

HB 4369 expands the authority of an interlocal agreement between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University that created the EAA, which to this point has only operated 15 schools in Detroit, and only since the beginning on the current school year.  

The legislation’s backers often tout the Detroit EAA’s alleged effectiveness, even though it has only been in place for a few months — not nearly existed long enough to be ready for fair evaluation, much less statewide implementation.

The first hearing on the bill was held Wednesday afternoon in a swiftly called session of the House Education Committee, which is chaired by Lyons. Representatives from the EAA and the governor’s office faced tough questions from Democrats on the committee.

Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, said during the hearing that stripping collective bargaining rights from educators will not help improve student achievement.

“If this bill is about student success, a large part of student success if having a well-trained, well-qualified teacher at the head of the classroom,” Knezek said.

“What does [harming collective bargaining rights] do to improve the outcomes for students?” Knezek asked.

Steven Norton of Ann Arbor-based Michigan Parents for Schools — a statewide non-profit that serves to give parents a voice in public education — testified that the legislation doesn’t do enough to give local communities a say in how their local schools are run.

Norton said the EAA amounts to an experiment with no real method of evaluation, and urged the committee to “reconsider the direction of this policy.”

“You do not experiment without a complete set of rules to evaluate what is working and what is not working,” Norton said. “That set of rules is missing from this bill.”

Further debate, both in the committee and on the House floor, is expected in the coming days and weeks. Lyons has said she wants to pass the bill before the Legislature leaves for spring break on March 26.

State Rep. Theresa Abed, D-Grand Ledge, said lawmakers should take more time to consider the legislation.

“I don’t understand the rush to codify and expand something we know little about,” Abed said, “because I’m not willing to experiment on our children.”

“There are too many red flags and too many questions,” she said.