The governor unveiled his “plan to reinvent Michigan’s educational system” this week. I’ll give this to Rick Snyder — for a Republican, he sure does love big government.
There have been several unveilings in recent weeks, a veritable night at a strip bar, very top-down, delivered with a subtext of I hate to do this, but you’ve demonstrated you’re incapable of managing these things on your own. He’s tied state revenue-sharing with municipalities — an important source of money for cities and towns, getting more important by the minute as tax revenues continue to fall — to the municipalities’ success at instituting so-called “best practices” in their management, as defined by the state.
To some extent I’m sympathetic. So many things in the state no longer work; it’s time for some fresh thinking. I’m not even bothered by the beefed-up emergency financial manager law, currently being distorted by none other than Rachel Maddow on a regular basis. The Grosse Pointes, as I’ve told you before, are comprised of five municipalities that are home to fewer than 48,000 souls, and we have a preposterous duplication of services. Five police departments. Five street departments. Five parks departments. And so on. We share a library and school system, but any discussion of sharing the rest is tied up in a snake’s nest of status and class anxiety, mixed in with the pervasive fear of Detroit that overarches everything — I mean everything — that happens here. To whatever extent Snyder can use the current crisis to force at least some common-sense efficiencies is fine by me.
However, if this is an in-for-a-dime, in-for-a-dollar deal, my guess is the self-described tough nerd, a moderate Republican who ignores the dog-whistle social issues that inflame the rest of the party, is going to find himself at a loss for support for his latest plan. As I said before, this week’s unveiling is education. You have to go way down in the press release — past the nod to early-childhood and the anti-bullying and the “easy-to-understand dashboard” (huh?) to find this nugget:
One of the most innovative departures from the way schools are funded now is to develop what the governor calls an “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” learning model in which funding follows a student rather than being exclusively tied to a school district.
…The governor also proposed giving parents more options by ensuring every school district participate in “Schools of Choice.” Under the governor’s proposal, residents of a local district will still have the first opportunity to enroll, but schools will no longer be able to refuse out-of-district students.
In other words: Every kid is a walking voucher. In the whole state. Education funding in Michigan is already tied to enrollment; state aid to education is doled out on a per-pupil basis. I’ve mentioned before that Michigan has so-called schools of choice, open-enrollment districts, but the question of whether or not to become one has been up to local boards. Hungrier districts have voted themselves open, but districts like Grosse Pointe’s — and other generally affluent, high-achieving areas — have done anything but. In fact, the No. 1 dog-whistle issue surrounding schools here is “residency,” the belief of some parents that Grosse Pointe’s peaceful, functional schools are being invaded by usurpers with no legal right to attend. I can’t wait to cover the board meetings that will address this issue, should it come to pass. I will pack a lunch.
But what I find most interesting about all of this is: Snyder is a Republican. Republicans supposedly believe in a less top-down government, more local control. Right? That’s what they keep telling me, anyway. They certainly believe in vouchers. He’s calling their bluff. To paraphrase the great star of that party: How’s that tough-nerdy thing workin’ out for ya?
Brian Dickerson, the Freep columnist worth reading, addressed all this in an excellent piece last month:
I wonder how some of those same small-government Republicans would react if a governor with different priorities used the same tools to reward local governments who provide subsidized day care or penalize those who failed to subsidize public transportation. I hear there are federal lawmakers as confident about what makes sense in the realm of health care as Snyder is about what makes sense in the realm of employee compensation.
It’s not the size of the government that matters so much as who is pulling the levers and to what end. And if politics teaches us anything, it’s that one man’s best practice is another man’s socialism.
As they say in the editorial-board meetings: Indeed. (Puff, puff, exhales pipe smoke.)
Today is the last hard-workin’ day of my week, with tomorrow dedicated to some cultivation of future work (as well as my yard, which could use some underbrush-raking). Nevertheless, how about some fresh links?
Bad news out of the South, of course. I don’t know about you, but I doubt I could watch this hellhound bearing down on me and hold my camera steady. I’d be making for someone’s basement. That was an F4, we’re told; the scale goes up to F6, although a 6 is formally described as “inconceivable.”
Wherever you are, I hope you’re safe.
The faces of ignorance and racism: The birther hall of fame.
A few months back, I had Elif Batuman’s “The Possessed” on the nightstand, one of the year’s delights — a collection of essays about Russian literature and the
lunatics people who love it. Batuman is still writing. She’s still great.
Off I go. Happy Thursday to all.