Governor proposes sweeping changes for public education; ignores budget crisis

In a much-anticipated special address on education, Gov. Rick Snyder today called for sweeping changes to improve public schools – including merit pay, tenure changes, more charter schools and more online learning – yet failed to provide any direction about how schools will be able to do more without adequate funding.

Current budget proposals for K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities call for hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts from the state – cuts that will directly impact student achievement, which Snyder says must improve or schools and educators will face severe penalties.

MEA President Iris K. Salters said Snyder’s long list of ideas along with major budget cuts “simply doesn’t make sense.” In a press release, Salters described Snyder’s proposal to base school funding on student performance as “counterproductive.”

“Taking resources away from struggling schools that need those funds to reduce class sizes, improve teaching training, and restore programs to help students succeed isn’t a sound investment strategy,” she said. “Many of the governor’s funding concepts are seriously flawed. And many of his ideas about education reform fly in the face of research and best practice.”

Snyder’s plan includes: 

  • The consolidation of early childhood programs. He wants to measure outcomes – the number of healthy births, number of children who are healthy, thriving, and developmentally on track from birth to third grade, school readiness, and reading proficiency rates at the end of third grade – to assess public investments in early childhood programs.
  • A “performance-based education system” that will tie state school aid to the academic achievement of a school district beginning in 2013.
  • Removal of the cap on the number of charter schools in districts with at least one academically failing school.  Snyder wants to allow top performing charter school boards to oversee more than one school.
  • By 2012, an intermediate school district could bid on any service a local district provides outside the classroom. A local district could bid on any service an intermediate district provides.
  • Comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in place for next school year.
  • Mandatory “schools of choice” for every public school district.
  • Allowing the per pupil state foundation grant to follow the student wherever he/she learns, including online.
  • Daily online education for any student who needs or wants it. Snyder wants to remove any enrollment caps or seat time requirements on virtual schools to make this happen.
  • Requiring all public schools to offer college credit opportunities.
  • “Performance-based teaching” to include substantial changes to teacher preparation, performance-centered assessment, changes to continuing education requirements, an end to longevity steps for wages, fast-track alternative assessment, administrator certification and training, and a major overhaul to teacher tenure.
  • A law to end the practice of “last in/first out” when it comes to layoffs because he said he believes that “effectiveness in teaching should trump seniority.”

Snyder also announced he will soon appoint emergency financial managers in many districts. Under a new law, these managers have the power to throw out union contracts and make other drastic changes. He didn’t specify which districts would get the managers immediately, but he said 238 schools had very poor student outcomes and 23 schools were in serious financial trouble. Snyder also said he plans a new emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools.