Rep. Brinks Decries Expansion of For-Profit Education in Michigan

‘Reform’ legislation empowers corporations to take over more schools
Thursday, March 20, 2014

LANSING – State Representative Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) expressed her outrage and dismay at the passage of House Bill 4369, which paves the way for more schools to be taken over and run by for-profit charter corporations. The bill now goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

“People want their kids to be able to attend local schools that provide a quality education,” Brinks said. “But instead of working to improve our schools and restoring the $3 billion in school funding that has been cut, Republicans in the Legislature would rather throw open the doors to for-profit corporations. School reform should benefit our kids, not wealthy CEOs.”

Legislative Republicans began this takeover model with the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), which has run 15 schools in Detroit with disastrous results. Now that State Superintendent Michael Flanagan has ended the state’s exclusive contract with the EAA, any number of entities can emerge under the State School Reform/Redesign District, operating as many as 50 schools. It’s unclear whether these entities will have a board that is accountable to the public or subject to the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

“Our kids thrive when their parents join with teachers and school administrators to improve education,” Brinks said. “But instead of encouraging that, this bill fails to invite parents and teachers into the process. We must have assurances that the administration of our schools will be transparent, and those who run them held accountable.”

HB 4369 prioritizes schools with students in grades K-8, putting the focus on where for-profit charter schools can make the most money. The bill is unclear on how a school is supposed to leave the reform district if performance improves, meaning a school could be faced with an indefinite takeover. Schools already in the reform district have seen subject proficiency decrease since their takeover.

“Republicans didn’t take the time to think through their ideas as they pushed this bill through the House,” Brinks said. “They’ve provided schools with no exit strategy from this reform district and haven’t assured them adequate funding. Rather than allowing hearings on their proposals and working with school administrators and teachers to create real reforms, they rushed to a vote without vetting their ideas. There’s a better way forward than this.”

Two Democratic-sponsored bills, HBs 5268 and 5269, came out of the House Democrats’ School Reform Task Force last year. This legislation would create an audit program for struggling schools before they fail and determine the true cost of education so that money can be spent wisely. After sitting in the House Education Committee for more than a month without action, both bills were discharged to the floor, but the full House has yet to consider them.

“If our Legislature is serious about improving our schools and providing our kids with a world-class education, then we must stop grasping at straws and find real solutions that work,” Brinks said. “Allowing corporations to profit off our kids helps corporations, not our children. There is a better solution than this, and that’s why I voted against this bill.”