MSU Professor to Governor: Don't 'Privatize Michigan's Public Schools' With Vouchers

February 19, 2013, 11:45 AM

Yoo-hoo, governor: An East Lansing economist worries about your education policy and is telling anyone who reads an open letter to you.

At an MSU College of Education faculty blog, Professor David Arsen lays out in academic style why he's alarmed by a Republican push for "legislation to profoundly change funding for Michigan’s K-12 schools with a sweeping replacement of the School Aid Act of 1979."

The education administration professor sees the effort as a move to vouchers that parents could use at any school -- "a plan to privatize Michigan's public schools," as he puts it.

Professor David Arsen
This is a truly dramatic strategy to shift the provision of Michigan’s educational services outside locally governed school districts. They would establish the closest approximation to a universal statewide voucher system ever implemented in the United States.

This is an ideal moment for you to offer leadership. The [House bill] drafters staunchly maintained that they were implementing your vision for Michigan schools . . . This is a good time to clarify your views for Michigan policymakers and citizens. . . .

These policy decisions will have very far-reaching implications for Michigan’s public schools, so it's important to get them right.

At over 2,800 words, Arsen's treatise at a blog called New Educator is more like a novella than a post. It even has 12 source notes. (This is a professor with a doctorate, after all.) He even casts it as a message from "one finance nerd to another."

Still, strong objections to a pending House bill emerge from the thicket:

As a school finance specialist, I’m surprised to see a statewide plan that completely ignores equity and adequacy. . . .

Gov. Snyder, the . . . funding proposal and House Bill 5923 fail to solve the actual problems facing Michigan schools.

Arsen also plays the home rule card, citing traditions of community pride and local control of education.

HB 5923 explicitly seeks to undermine local school districts as the providers of education services. But most Michigan citizens like their local public schools, and they like having democratic control over school boards. Their communities are defined by their local school districts. . . .

Community is real. We know that it matters for health and happiness. And people are willing to pay for it.

Real estate markets reflect the value people place on local school districts in home prices. Identical homes on opposite sides of a district boundary can differ in price by tens of thousands of dollars. Destroy the districts where people have paid extra for their community schools, and property values will fall. . . .   

Citizens across Michigan care deeply about these issues. Please listen to what they have to say.

For its part, MSU appends a standard disclaimer at the end of its professor's call-out, saying he speaks solely for himself. 

-- Alan Stamm

Read more:  MSU College of Education

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