Public School Lobbying Worse Than 'Skunk Works'

Concerns about "backroom dealings" insincere

A group of charter public school advocates, private-sector business people and state employees have been meeting to come up with ideas on how to provide better public education at a lower cost through technology and competition. The group hopes to provide a “value school” model costing about $5,000 per pupil, reports The Detroit News, which broke the story.

If it works, this would mean an education at substantially less than the $13,000 school districts receive now in per-student revenue or even the roughly $7,000 per pupil they receive strictly from the state.

Most of the criticism of the program has been partisan in nature or has come from public-sector unions that will, of course, fight any threat to their virtual monopoly. While it is correct to say that it is in the self-interest of charter public school operators to expand school choice, it is just as true that it is in the unions interest to restrict choice, competition and even technological advances if it would mean fewer union jobs.

In their own words, the education unions candidly admit that they exist for their employees; not the educational interests of students.

But the criticism of the program in the media reveals somewhat of a double-standard.

For example, the Detroit Free Press editorialized to “keep backroom dealings out of the classroom.”

It’s fine to take input from across the spectrum, but these are not conversations that should happen behind closed doors. If [Lansing Attorney and Mackinac Center board member, Richard] McLellan and the others have great ideas for education in Michigan, they ought to put them out on the table with everyone else’s, and entertain a reasonable public discussion about where the state should be headed.

In the meantime, just a few days ago, Michigan Capitol Confidential broke a story revealing that the 86 school districts in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties were funneling money through the Oakland Schools ISD to be used on actual political lobbying. Through public information requests, it was shown that the ISD operates as a type of front group to get money to the Tri-County Alliance, an advocacy group run by the former chief-of-staff for the Senate Minority Leader.

No other media have picked up on that story, but one can find dozens of articles on the “skunk works” group — though the former involves taxpayer money and actual lobbying while the latter is simply individuals trying to come up with an educational plan in discussions amongst interested parties.

Amidst the debate, one thing is most important to keep in mind: The “value school” model and charter schools in general can only happen if parents willfully choose to send their kids to those schools. If there are ways to provide just as good or better of an education at a cheaper cost to taxpayers, it should be pursued.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.