Friday, February 08, 2008

MEA Culpa

I reproduce an e-newsletter* from Jack Hoogendyk regarding Governor Granholm's proposal to spend $300 million on high school reform.
Dear Duane,

In her state of the state address a couple of weeks ago, the governor introduced a new idea to improve high school graduation rates and encourage more students to attend college. There was a note familiarity to the idea...

The Proposal: Specialized High Schools

As described by Peter Luke in his column of February 4th, "A new $300 million state fund would over the next three years provide planning grants and startup cash to districts that agree to dramatically change the way high school students are educated. The proposal would replace large high schools that don't work well with smaller schools of 400 pupils or fewer. The principal and a teaching staff of his or her selection would have broad freedom to personalize learning environments for students.

The financial incentive for districts to participate is clear. Every student who drops out of school represents a loss of nearly $7,500 in annual state aid."

Why Does This Idea Sound Familiar?

Five years ago, retired businessman Robert Thompson offered $200 million of his own money to build 15 specialized high schools in Detroit. You could accurately describe it as startup cash in a district that dramatically needed to change the way high school students are educated. His offer would have replaced large high schools that didn't work well with smaller schools. The principal and a teaching staff of his or her selection would certainly have been given broad freedom to personalize learning environments for students.

If it was such a good idea five years ago, why didn't it happen? Follow the money.

As described in a National Review article on July 28, 2004, "Granholm may have committed her most ignoble act in late 2003: the craven rejection of $200 million proffered by Michigan businessman Robert Thompson to build charter schools for Detroit's inner-city poor. Her cave-in to Michigan's powerful teacher-union lobby was a slap in the face of Democrats' claimed constituency, the thousands of urban black families on waiting lists to send their kids to charters."

The Thompson offer of five years ago and the governor's idea of two weeks ago are similar; they both look for ways to improve graduation rates in failing districts. They key difference is that Mr. Thompson's proposal uses private dollars and works outside of the MEA and union scale employment; the governor's proposal is a government solution that will cost much more to implement.

A private investment of $200 million would have provided hundreds of new jobs in an ailing economy. Under the governor's proposal, new schools will be constructed under the prevailing wage which means inflated labor costs with the bill going to the taxpayers rather than a private business owner.

While I certainly am open to any ideas the governor has to improve the abysmal graduation rates of inner city school districts, I find it unfortunate that the governor and the city of Detroit were unwilling to accept a $200 million gift and the Legislature was unwilling to lift the cap on charter schools to give students in Detroit better opportunities for success.
This newsletter is written by Jack Hoogendyk, who is solely responsible for its content. The opinions expressed here are those of the author alone.
I, for one, share Hoogendyk's opinion.

The net difference between private and state funding for this idea is half a billion dollars on its face. It is actually quite a bit more, because the economic impact must include the loss to consumers and investors of $300 million in loot that could have otherwise been deployed, the inefficiency of processing that money through the government bureaucrats, the closed-shop prevailing wage requirement for State funded construction and the lowered productivity the MEA's tentacles will wring out. Not to mention the increased risk of failure of the entire concept due to increased government regulation.

It is quintessentially Democrat to decide that an idea that would have been privately funded will work better if it is funded by the State. Better yet if it involves an entrenched labor union. The total costs noted above, which I guess to be a billion dollars, can be laid directly at the feet of the MEA. This is what it costs to buy their support. You're paying for it. You didn't have to. The project would now be in its fifth year, instead of not even begun. On Robert Thompson's dime.

The UAW, though it has been running General Motors since about 1960, has finally had to come to terms with the fact that the market won't support the wages and benefits to which it had become accustomed. The MEA does not care about a market, and this arguably damages teachers, students and Michigan's future. Thompson's proposal was rejected because it was likely to make this starkly obvious.

On a related note, Hoogendyk makes note of a bill reported out of the Michigan House Education committee last week to raise the compulsory education age to 18.
The governor says this will lead to higher graduation rates. There is no data to support that assumption. What it will do is inflate the school population by 25-30,000 "students" who have no interest in being in school, and probably shouldn't be there. This will increase the expenditures to the school aid fund by over $200 million, putting pressure on a fund that is already short of cash.
Ask yourself, who does this benefit most?

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