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NOTE: I'm reposting this diary for two reasons: 1) to make the title URL more appropriate for republication on other websites (this was a request of a commentator in the first diary), and 2) because I've added a whole bunch of additional information, including a detailed phone script and sample email to help guide Michigan residents when contacting their representatives/senators on these bills.
Hyperbole? Hair on Fire? Sky is Falling?

Absolutely.

If you or anyone you know and care about live in Michigan, or if you care whatsoever about the public school system in this country--or, for that matter, education of our children in general--I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to read up on Michigan State House Bills 6004 & 5923, and State Senate Bills 1358 & 620.

If you think I'm over-hyping this issue, read the following letter, posted earlier today on the Bloomfield Hills School District website by superintendent Rob Glass. I repeat: This was posted by the superintendent of the BLOOMFIELD HILLS SCHOOL DISTRICT.

As in, one of the wealthiest and most Republican areas in Michigan.

As in, Mitt Romney's home town, also the home town of Cranbrook.

Believe me, Rob Glass is NOT known for panicking or over-hyping issues, and I guarantee you that he's gonna catch a lot of flack for speaking out so strongly on a political issue--especially speaking out against a series of bills being pushed--HARD--by Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican-held state legislature.

An urgent call to action from Superintendent Rob Glass

Posted: November 28, 2012

Dear Parents and Citizens: This is an urgent call to action affecting your Bloomfield Hills Schools and public education in Michigan. A package of bills designed to corporatize and dismantle public education is being hastily pushed through this current ‘lame duck’ legislative session. If we do not take immediate action, I believe great damage will be done to public education, including our school system. We have just three weeks to take action before it’s too late. The bills are:

House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358: Would expand a separate and statewide school district (the EAA) overseen by a governor-appointed chancellor and functioning outside the authority of the State Board of Education or state school superintendent. These schools are exempt from the same laws and quality measures of community-governed public schools. The EAA can seize unused school buildings (built and financed by local taxpayers) and force sale or lease to charter, non-public or EAA schools.

House Bill 5923: Creates several new forms of charter and online schools with no limit on the number. Bundled with HB 6004/SB1358, many of these schools could be created by the EAA. Public schools are not allowed to create these new schools unless they charter them. Selective enrollment/dis-enrollment policies will likely lead to greater segregation in our public schools. This bill creates new schools without changing the overall funding available, further diluting resources for community-governed public schools.

Senate Bill 620: Known as the ‘Parent Trigger’ bill, this would allow the lowest achieving 5% of schools to be converted to a charter school while allowing parents or teachers to petition for the desired reform model. This bill will not directly affect our district, but disenfranchises voters, ends their local control, and unconstitutionally hands taxpayer-owned property over to for-profit companies. Characterized as parent-empowerment, this bill does little to develop deep, community-wide parent engagement and organization.

I’ve never considered myself a conspiracy theorist—until now. This package of bills is the latest in a yearlong barrage of ideologically-driven bills designed to weaken and defund locally-controlled public education, handing scarce taxpayer dollars over to for-profit entities operating under a different set of rules. I believe this is fundamentally wrong. State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan and State Board of Education President John Austin and others have also expressed various concerns, as has the Detroit Free Press.

We embrace change, innovation and personalization.We’re passionate about providing choices and options for students. We compete strongly in the educational marketplace. We must never stop improving. This is not a laissez faire plea to defend the status quo. This is about making sure this tidal wave of untested legislation does not sweep away the valued programs our local community has proudly built into its cherished school system. If you are concerned about these bills, please do the following:

--Attend one of the following grassroots legislative meetings.

​--Stay informed by registering for updates through ‘Capwiz.’

--Call and e-mail your legislator and respectfully ask them to OPPOSE these bills (see contact information below).

--​Enlist ten others to do the same, and please remain active.

​Public education in Michigan can and must remain strong, but it will only happen if we act NOW.

Sincerely, Rob Glass, Superintendent

Legislative Contact information:

Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909
Email Address: Rick.Snyder@michigan.gov
Tel: 517.335.7858 (Constituent Services)

41st State Rep District (Troy) Representative Marty Knollenberg (R)
N0890 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909
Email Address: MartyKnollenberg@house.mi.gov
Tel: 517.373.1783

13th State Senate District (City BH) Senator John Pappageorge (R)
1020 Farnum Building
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536
Email Address: SenJPappageorge@senate.michigan.gov
Tel: 517.373.2523

40th State Rep District (Blfld. Twp/City) Representative Chuck Moss (R)
S0889 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909
Email: ChuckMoss@house.mi.gov
Tel: 517.373.8670

15th State Senate District (West Bloomfield) Senator Mike Kowall (R)
305 Farnum Building
P.O. Box 30036 Lansing, MI 48909
Email: SenMKowall@senate.michigan.gov
Tel: 517.373.1758

39th State Rep District (West Bloomfield) Representative Lisa Brown (D)
S0888 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909-7514
Email: lisabrown@house.mi.gov
Tel: 517.373.1799

-----

Last night I attended a meeting at which Dave Randels, the Asst. Director of Govt. Relations & Pupil Services for Oakland County Schools (that's quite a title!) gave a presentation in which he broke down these bills and what they mean. In short, it would be devastating to the entire Michigan public school system. It's effectively a wholesale corporate takeover of the schools, with the new "statewide district" bypassing all local control, local school boards, and even the state board of education and the legislature itself, reporting directly to the Governor.

Even worse, the "three weeks" timeline mentioned by Mr. Glass may already be obsolete; I have it on good authority that the state House may be voting on the first of these bills, HB 6004 as early as TOMORROW, Thursday the 29th.

Update: Dammit, yep, it's on the official schedule for tomorrow already.
Update: According to Eclectablog, the vote tomorrow is "only" a committee vote, not the full House, but either way we still have to work VERY fast to stop this.

In addition, I received this message from a local friend:

"Got this message from a friend that works for Novi schools.

"FYI, tonight the Senate is apparently working on removing the vacant building language from the EAA bill. They will probably pass a revised bill tomorrow. Now most districts won't get too upset about the bill unless they have a school in the bottom 5% but we still need parent uproar."

If true, this is both good and bad news.

It's good because a) they're removing one of the (many) terrible things in the bill, and b) because it means that they ARE feeling the pressure/resistance already.

It's bad because, as your friend noted, it means that they probably deliberately included a bunch of truly horrible stuff so that they could then remove it later and claim to have "compromised" so that the rest will "only" seem "kind of" terrible in comparison.

Update x3: The Superintendent of Birmingham Public Schools (right next door to Bloomfield Hills, and just as high-income/upper-class as Bloomfield Hills) also posted a similar letter on their own Facebook page:

Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012

Dear Parents and Community Members,

As we make plans for the holiday season, Michigan legislators are busy making plans to overhaul the Michigan public education system as we know it. During the lame duck session, the Michigan House and Senate are making moves to further erode local control and the financial base for Michigan’s traditional public school system. These proposed plans look remarkably like a public voucher program, add unnecessary cost and complexity, and allow Lansing appointees to shift control away from the local school board trustees that you elect. All of these elements create a very concerning picture. We encourage you to learn more about HB 5923, HB 6004, and SB 1358 and help us open a dialogue with our elected officials.

I urge you to take a moment to contact your elected officials. You can find their information attached to this letter, or on the BPS website, here. You can also sign up for Capwiz, a service that will keep you informed about potential action in Lansing, and give you the ability to contact your legislator with the click of a button. Additionally, contact information and a sample letter are provided on the next page. Contacting your representative is a critical step as our elected officials prepare to make decisions for the future of our public education system.

Informational meetings are scheduled throughout the week, including this evening, Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 4 and 6:30 p.m., at Royal Oak Middle School, 709 N. Washington Ave., Royal Oak, 48067. On Monday, Dec. 3, at 4 p.m., residents are also invited to attend an informational meeting to learn more about these plans. The event will be held at Rochester High School, 180 S. Livernois in Rochester Hills. The legislature hasn’t given us much time to act, but we know that informed constituents are the best line of defense we have to combat this pending legislation.

Also included in this letter are talking points. We know that you’ll find your own voice in this, but these talking points can serve as a way to help us present a united message to our legislature.

Birmingham Public Schools currently serves over 8,300 students. We offer students choice programming, opportunities to earn college credit through a vast Advanced Placement program, and world language and resources to create global, life-long learners. These bills target both high-achieving and struggling districts alike. We hope that together with our residents, we can suggest a statewide solution that helps all children, without turning public education into a public voucher program.

Sincerely,

Daniel Nerad
Superintendent
Birmingham Public Schools

UPDATE x4: I've posted a follow-up diary that includes a sample phone script that I've hobbled together for calling state legislators/the Governor's office, as well as reposting Diane Gee's excellent sample email. Please Rec this diary as well, would'ja?
MAJOR UPDATE x5: From a friend of mine:

"Happening NOW. Here's the info I have from a well-connected friend:

"Senate Republicans are planning to ignore Senate rules and bypass a vote by the Senate Education Committee on the EAA bill. This means that the full Senate could be voting as soon as the next hour on the bill."

The provisions regarding the right to take property (the provisions I really care about) and give it to charter schools are apparently still in there.

Update x6:

By request, here's a sample script I've put together for Michigan residents who want to call their state legislators (and/or the Governor's office) to urge them to oppose the draconian education bills currently being fast-tracked during the Lame Duck session. It's a bit wordy, and sort of cobbled together from Rob Glass's letter and some other sources, but it should do the trick. Obviously you'll have to modify the wording slightly depending on whether you're talking to a Rep or Senate office, but all of the bills relate to each other.

Phone Script (remember, be polite; the person answering the phone is just doing their job):

Hello. My name is ____ and I'm a constituent in your district. I'm calling you today to ask you to oppose (House Bill 6004 / Senate Bill 1358), the plan to allow for a statewide school district, along with House Bill 5923, the plan to allow unlimited new charter schools / create a “parent trigger”. I’m also opposed to Senate Bill 620, the so-called “Parent Trigger” bill which was passed by the state Senate earlier this year and is now under consderation by the House.

—Regarding (House Bill 6004 / Senate Bill 1358), I’m deeply concerned that this statewide school “district” would be run by a Governor-appointed Chancellor and would function outside the authority of not only the local school boards and superintendents, but would even bypass the State Board of Education and State school Superintendent.

I’m deeply concerned that the EAA schools would be exempt to many of the laws regarding testing requirements, standards and quality control that traditional community-governed public schools are.

I’m deeply concerned that the EAA would be allowed to seize unused school buildings—built and financed by local taxpayers—and force the sale or lease of these buildings to charter, non-public or EAA schools with no local control.

I’m deeply concerned with the idea that this new district is not limited to only the lowest-performing schools and what it might mean for my local school district if one of these EAA schools opened where I live.

—Regarding House Bill 5923, I’m deeply concerned that this would allow the EAA to create unlimited numbers and forms of charter and cyberschools with no local authority over their number or type and with little or no oversight or accountability for their quality or effectiveness.

—I’m deeply concerned that the selective enrollment (and DIS-enrollment) policies would cause greater segregation and would open up the schools to potential discrimination lawsuits.

—I’m further concerned that these privately-operated charter/online schools would siphon public funds without increasing total funding available, resulting in fewer resources available for traditional public schools.

—Regarding Senate Bill 620, already passed by Senate, I’m deeply opposed to forcing the lowest-achieving 5% of schools to be converted to private charter schools without allowing the local parent/teaching community to petition for other reform models. I’m concerned that this would be done even in cases where the school in question is already showing improvement.

I’m also highly disturbed that these bills are being rushed through the Legislature with little notice, no transparancy about their development and virtually no opportunity for public comment or discussion.

In short, I’m concerned that these bills would disenfranchise the local voters and end local control, while simultaneously turning over taxpayer-owned property and public funds to private, for-profit companies, without any oversight, accountability or quality control, while possibly bypassing the state Constitution in doing so.

Please oppose House Bills 6004, 5923 and the House version of the “Parent Trigger” bill.

Has the (Representative / Senator) stated how he/she intends to vote on these bills?

Diane Gee's sample Email:
Dear Madams and Sirs,

The package of bills making their way through the legislature, House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358, House Bill 5923, and Senate Bill 620,  are completely counterproductive and counterintuitive to a healthy educational system.

Know that, each and every one of you or your compatriots that vote for passing them will face opposition from recall to a full blown campaign against your re-election at any time in the future.

We, the people you are sworn to represent, virulently oppose the privatization of our school system. We understand fully that to take our public monies, and funnel them into a for-profit system is theft. We understand that in a for-profit system, value has to be stolen from the bottom in order for the top to profit.

Like the misnomer, "right to work" this is a blatant attempt to frighten us into being complicit in losing a class war against us. The rich can pay, the middle and lower classes will end up with an inferior product at the very core of what could lift them out of it - their education.

Michigan voted soundly against PA4. This, and other bills like it are an attempt to side step our ability to work and vote in our own best interests. You aren't stupid, either. You know we know.

But be on notice! As you further attempt to reduce our collective power and reduce our expectations of, and actual standards of living we still get to vote for you personally. Your JOBS are at stake along with our children's futures.

I will, and every one I know, will oppose you, hold you to account and spread the word. I am a political journalist and have a radio show. I intend to name names, and stay on it until you drop this attempt to let the loss be our kids and their teachers to enrich a very few.

Education is a right, local control is a right, bought and paid for by the collective pooling of our money to make it free and accessible for all children.

You are quietly declaring war on our rights. We will fight back.

(signed)

I'd STRONGLY suggest CALLING, since even though it might not do squat, it still has about 100x as much impact as an email does. However, send the emails/sign the petitions as well:

Here's a petition put up by MoveOn for Michigan residents to sign

Michigan Parents for Schools website

The Tri-County Alliance for Public Education

Learning, not Earning petition

Some charts, graphs & additional analysis of the "success" which is the EAA (statewide "district") to date

Here's Michigan State Senator and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer's diary about the alternate educational plan from the MI Dems from a few days ago.

Oakland County school officials blast Snyder proposal for state education overhaul

One Bloomfield United

Eclectablog is on top of it.

UPDATE 7: The story has been picked up by Rachel Maddow (well, her blog anyway)!
Update x8: Here's the latest news from Michigan Parents for Schools, which is probably the best as-it-happens source for the latest developments:
Once again, House Education did not take a vote on HB 6004, the EAA bill. Two colleagues and I were able to speak again to the bill, including the H-1 substitute. The bottom line is that we don't think the bill can ever be tweaked enough to be good law. The basic approach - that local districts are solely responsible for poor performance because of bad management and governance - drives the whole idea that the way to "save" "failing" schools is for the state to take them over.

While we sensed a lot of hesitation even among Republican members about the bill, especially the state-wide district aspect, they are trying to adjust it rather than abandon the basic premise. For most legislators who favor the EAA, I don't believe it's strategic. They honestly believe that poorly performing schools are suffering because they are in the grip of incompetent elected officials who are also beholden to unions and other special interests who have no interest in the children. Given that basic belief, then the push to take over schools with a state-run agency makes sense. Change the management, the argument goes, and you will get dramatic results.

However, we believe that in general their diagnosis is wrong, and so the solution is wrong as well. (Not that every district is an example of financial or instructional perfection.) We believe that intentional bad behavior is very rare and that the wider problem is one of inadequate resources and support for schools dealing with high levels of child poverty. State takeover won't change this, and there is no evidence that the EAA's technology-driven version of "student centered learning" will be more successful than the existing programs.

Update x9: I just wanted to take a moment to address a response diary written by kayla9170 entitled The Sky Has Fallen on Public Educational System in Michigan for Decades, nearly no one cared.

I actually agree with pretty much every point she makes, with only one quibble. In her diary she states:

"Now since tears of betrayal are forming in communities like Bloomfield Hills and more, these state residents as sounding warning bells sighting for an "call to arms" ready to fight "the takeover". Yet, we wonder where were these Michigan residents the last fourteen or so years?"
The gist of her diary--extensively researched and extremely detailed--is that the rich, white, suburban school districts didn't give a rat's ass about the slow, gradual decimation of Michigan schools as long as it was limited to the poor black communities like Detroit and Pontiac, and that we in the wealthier areas like Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Grosse Pointe and so on are only freaking out now because the same policies are finally coming home to roost in our lofty whitebread communities.

She's probably absolutely correct about this in general.

However, for ME, the reason that I didn't pay attention before and do now has nothing to do with where I live or how wealthy I am--it has to do with the fact that I DIDN'T HAVE A CHILD BEFORE, and now I do.

I know that may not seem like much of an excuse, but yes, I admit it: I didn't follow K-12 educational issues very closely until I had a child. Should I have? Of course. But you know what? There's only so much time in the Goddamned day.

I have a 6-year old son. The moment my wife and I learned we were going to have a child, you bet your ass we started paying attention to school issues--and, in fact, that was the primary reason why we moved from Berkley (a nice city with a decent-but-not-fantastic public school system) to Bloomfield Hills (known primarily FOR it's excellent public school system) in the first place. I grew up here and had the benefits of the local schools, and wanted my son to have the same experience.

After we arrived I became heavily involved in the Bloomfield Hills High School debacle, which I wrote about, in detail, in a couple of diaries earlier this year.

So, fine. I didn't pay attention before, and now I am. What the hell else do you want me to say?

But don't try to suggest that I'm one of the people who shrugged it off as long as it "only affected poor black people" or whatever.

Update x10: Another update from Michigan Parents for Schools on the changes made in the "H-1 substitute" (ie, revised version) of HB 6004:

While the changes did address certain narrow concerns (empty school buildings; a reprieve of bottom 5% schools making progress), the essential elements remained unchanged.

While we appreciate that several concerns have been addressed in the H-1 substitute for HB 6004, sadly our main objections remain.

--The bill continues to create a statewide school agency empowered to take over struggling local schools, but without any assurance that the new agency will do any better.

--Community control is simply swept aside, making the process all stick and no carrot. The bill relies on punitive measures rather than partnerships with local communities.

--There is as yet no reason to expect that the EAA will be any more successful with these struggling schools, and the bill does not contemplate the possibility that the EAA might itself “fail.”

--The bill continues to assume that schools struggle because of administrative and instructional faults, which can be easily fixed with new management and clever technology. The evidence indicates that fighting the impact of child poverty is difficult and requires both substantial assistance and extra resources. Community schools are the best vehicles to tackle these problems, with outside help.

Update x11: Just got off the radio with Diane G, and just read this from Steve Norton of MI Parents for Schools:
No action yet. Clearly they don't have the votes to get it out of the House committee, and even the Senate committee seems stuck. They do have the option of discharging it straight to the floor, but right now it seems they don't have the votes there either. Lots of Republican members are working to find changes that will salvage the bill(s). But there is no amount of tweaking that can make this a good law.

Originally posted to Brainwrap on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 08:43 PM PST.

Also republished by Michigan, My Michigan.

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