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Political Views Populate Website MEA Official Helped Create

School districts in the past have used taxpayer dollars for advocacy

A website co-founded by a Michigan Education Association officer and supported by a network of public schools that was pitched as promoting "good news" stories about student achievement also is posting stories that promote political views of some public school officials.

The site, Standing Strong for Public Schools, posted two stories under an "Issues" heading that link to the Oakland Schools blog. In one story titled, "TOP 5 Problems in Mich Public Ed," Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch criticized legislation surrounding merit pay and performance evaluation, rebuked parental choice regarding charter public schools, and said public school districts aren't getting enough money. 

The website also posted a story that linked to the same Oakland Schools blog that criticized legislators and "corporate profiteers" for "misguided top-down education reform …" 

In one of her posts, Markavitch also wrote that, "no other high performing country" has school choice.

However, she's wrong.

Education in Sweden operates almost totally as a voucher program, "where parents are freer than those in almost any other country to spend as they wish the money the government allocates to educating their children," according to an article in The Economist magazine.

Denmark has a national voucher program and New Zealand has open enrollment for most students. Both rank much higher than the United States on international tests done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Markavitch has been active with the Tri-County Alliance, an organization that has lobbied the Legislature for more money for schools and fewer school choice options for parents. 

The Standing Strong for Public Schools website is run by the Michigan Public Schools Partnership (MPSP), a coalition of 21 school-related organizations and school districts.

An article on MLive said the MPSP was co-founded by Christine Beardsley, the superintendent of Eaton Regional Education Service Agency, and June Pettyplace, a Uniserv director for the MEA. Beardsley and Pettyplace didn't respond to requests for comment.

Beardsley is quoted in the MLive story as saying the site would highlight the positive things going on in Michigan public schools. The site does also contain articles on student achievement and awards.

The website was unveiled in a news conference Nov. 18 at Rockford Public Schools, which is one of the districts in the MPSP network.

Rockford Superintendent Mike Shibler said in an email he thinks his district was used for the press conference because he's been an outspoken advocate for public education and because Rockford has "a strong reputation for excellence."

"I do ardently support MPSP's mission of publishing positive success stories germane to public education," Shibler said. "I do not support any use of this media to promote a political agenda. As I currently understand MPSP's mission, their intent is not to promote a political agenda. There exist many other forums for that purpose."

Jeff Steinport, a former school board member with the Grand Rapids Public Schools and spokesperson for the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance, said the new site should stick to stories about positive news within the districts.

"If they want to promote positive news, that is great," Steinport said. "If they want to make it political, that's not so great."

Some public school districts have started using advocacy websites such as Capwiz to get out their political views. Capwiz is an online site that posts stories about public education that many districts use and promote. For example, during the school reform debate last December, Capwiz posted a news alert that described two bills as "reckless and dangerous."

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