Michigan’s Caste System — Governor Snyder’s Education Plan

Second-class citizen: is an informal term used to describe a person who is systematically discriminated against within a state or other political jurisdiction, despite their nominal status as a citizen or legal resident there. While not necessarily slaves, outlaws or criminals, second-class citizens have limited legal rights, civil rights and economic opportunities, and are often subject to mistreatment or neglect at the hands of their putative superiors.  Second-class citizenry is generally regarded as a violation of human rights. Typical impediments facing second-class citizens include, but are not limited to, disenfranchisement (a lack or loss of voting rights), limitations on civil or military service (not including conscription in every case), as well as restrictions on language, religion, education, freedom of movement and association, weapons ownership, marriage, gender identity and expression, housing and property ownership. The term is generally used as a pejorative or in the context of civil society activism and governments will typically deny the existence of a second class within the polity. (Wikipedia)

My son is a second-class citizen.

He’s sixteen, a gifted straight-A student, president of his class, photo editor of the school yearbook, in good health, and an all-around great kid. But the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, still thinks he’s worth less than other kids in the State.

WARNING:  If you are a parent of a school-aged child in Michigan, your kid may too be a second-class citizen.

Many in Michigan are familiar with the inequities in school funding, yet remain hopeful that the problem will be addressed by their Governor.  Don’t count on that anytime soon.

The Governor recently spoke at the Northwest Michigan Economic Summit in Traverse City.  Also in attendance was Mary McGee-Cullen, a Michgan Education Association Board Member, delegate to the NEA, and President of the Traverse City Education Association. Mary is a full-time teacher and a parent of two academically-blessed public school students. At the conference, the Governor was asked point-blank about what he plans to do to address the school funding parity problem.  Snyder’s response was not what Mary, and the other parents in the crowd had hoped to hear.  He said he would put it on his list and it might be considered in a couple of years.

Mary wants to “end this discrimnation” now. She believes the children of her school district “deserve equal opportunity with students in higher funded districts.”  She says “The students of Traverse City simply can’t wait a couple of years.” 

She is right. And neither can the many other districts, like Traverse City, who receive the lowest foundation grant, $6,846 per pupil, and continue to wait for elusive equity. A student in Grant Township Schools hauls in a handsome $12,256 each year from the state. The average foundation grant among the top ten schools is $11,059. When one student is worth half of another, based solely on where they live, it is a state enforced educational caste system.

Speaking of the top ten, we won’t find any of them listed in the report: Michigan Public Schools With Deficits.  Here we find 48 districts operating in the red.  Sixteen of them are bottom-tier schools, and another 28 bring in less than $1000 more per student than the lowest grant amount. Their average per pupil funding is only $7,238.

Governor Snyder’s 2012/13 school budget stands to widen the equity gap. He is dangling about $190 million dollars in front of these already stressed districts, with conditions attached — and they aren’t based in sound educational or budgetary policy, in fact, some of the requirements are very harmful.

Snyder offers $120 million to be distributed on the basis of compliance with his “best practices”.  These are a one-size-fits-all set of conditions, the problem is, just like with garmets, they don’t fit very well at all. Districts must meet four of the five criteria:

  • Charge employees at least 10 percent of health care premiums.
  • Become the insurance policyholder on medical benefit plans.
  • Produce a plan to consolidate services with cost savings.
  • Obtain competitive bids for services.
  • Develop a “Dashboard” that measures the district’s effectiveness.

They all seem fairly straight-forward, so then why did only 177 of the 549 districts in Michigan meet these criteria in 2011/12 to become eligible to receive an additional $100 per pupil?

The first requirement, the 10% healthcare employee kick-in, is troubling for two reasons. 

First, it requires districts to force unions to amend current contracts, something they are not generally willing to do, mid-contract. However, most districts and unions are very open to negotiation at the appropriate time.  Second, the 10% employee contribution does not always translate into real savings. As health insurance premiums have been escalating preciptously over the years, those districts at the bottom per pupil funding tier have consistently worked closely with the unions to curtail costs by buying policies with less coverage at a lower cost. For example, a custodial staff employee in one district may cost $10,000 per year for healthcare premiums with no employee contribution, but districts with more money are often paying for premium policies which cost considerably more than the 10% of $10,000. (Michigan’s average annual family plan runs $13,148). So, the schools that have already cut the level of coverage are loathe to ask for additional cuts, while those richer districts have an easier time making the case with unions for the 10% concession.

The other problematic requirement is the “competitive bid” practice. Governor Snyder’s lack of public sector accumen is evident with this demand.  His myopic corporate experience leads him straight to the outsourcing model.  Snyder simply doesn’t understand that schools have relationships with their families, employees and communities, which include the unions and their members in very important ways.  Administrators understand that parents are wary of private contractors driving school buses or providing custodial services in their children’s schools. The insertion of a for-profit layer supresses wages, which in-turn lowers the quality level of both the employee and the service they provide.

You get what you pay for, and parents want the best for their children.

Snyder is also pushing for privatization through promotion of  cyber-learning. Ask any teacher and they will attest to the importance of one-on-one instruction. On-line learning should remain supplemental. Academically challenged kids get lost and simply fall through the cracks in the silence of the cyber-world.

The conditions placed on the other $70 million Snyder is holding back clearly demonstrates why a business tycoon has no place in governance.

Snyder is tying this money to school performance. Given his cuts in per pupil funding, exacerbated by the district to district inequities, the notion that these schools can continue to operate on a level playing field is ludicrous. Furthermore, the idea that they must compete against eachother for scarce dollars is simply obscene.

The governor may have forced that model to work in his previous job by squeezing corporate divisions with budget cuts all while demanding increased productivity — a scenario in which fear is the lone motivation.

But, schools must not, and should not, be run that way.  It harms our children. 

It is utterly ridiculous to expect a school with half the funding to “compete” with a relatively wealthy district.

Governor Snyder’s education policies do absolutely nothing to solve the problem, and much to expand the divide between second-class and first-class kids. 

Amy Kerr Hardin 




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6 Responses to Michigan’s Caste System — Governor Snyder’s Education Plan

  1. Fran Cullen says:

    You have a huge talent. Thank you so much for sharing your brain with the rest of us. I need to ask your permission to email this to some people. Is that ok?


  2. Andrea Montague says:

    Thank you Amy for this article. I believe some of the wealthy districts are using Snyder’s budget cuts to bust unions as well. I was a custodian at Gull Lake Community Schools, a wealthier district and mostly republican. At the same board meeting when they said they would have to privatize their custodial staff, they gave the Superintendent a $4000. merit raise. Now how can that be? There is a long list of recipients of these merit raises, including a football coach who had only been employed 3 months. This is a slap in the face to the taxpayers who trust the school to be good stewards of their money. It’s also a slap to the “least” of the districts that have been working diligently within impossible budgets to save their staff and their districts. Thank you.

  3. Jon Awbrey says:

    Thanks for this report. Shared at Wear Red For Public Ed.

  4. Connie Adelsburg says:

    When is the news media going to make Snyder accountable for his actions. We need some answers to his outrageous discrimination practices. College students not eligible for food stamps, but others are. Keeping the poor from getting an education is the worst form of discrimination. I want to know who supported synder while he was going to school? He didn’t get his good grades by working, which is what he expects college students to do. I think its time to start digging up the real truth about him. We need to expose him to the public, do an investigation on him, and rally for the recall. I vote for a speedy recall. Lets forge ahead.

  5. Cheryl says:

    In addition to the excellent points made in this article, it should be mentioned that the same ‘business model’ the Governor is forcing on Michigan was the model he used to run Gateway Computers into the ground. Fail, fail, fail.

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