Written by Sherry Wells; posted by Art Myatt
Even before its 1837 statehood, Michigan had a superintendent of public instruction. Both its 1908 and 1963 Constitutions provided for a State Board of Education, as the “planning and coordinating body for all public education, including higher education,” and “instructed it to advise the legislature as to the financial requirements.” The Governor was made an ex-officio member without voting rights, but all this provided balance between those entities.
The State Board was decimated by Governors, beginning with Republican Engler. Democrat Granholm promised to restore those parts, but returned only the MEAP test. Gov. Snyder ripped out the Reform and Redesign Office, despite the Board’s expertise, to inject more charter schools and his contractor buddies across the state. We see how that’s “working” for the Detroit students.
Since 1999, the State twice took over the Detroit Public Schools, both times robbing it of its surplus and sending student achievement from better than the state average to the depths. It closed new and renovated buildings paid for by the citizen-passed millage and gave them to charters. School districts with majorities of low-income students know they are next on the chopping blocks.
Rep. Tim Kelly complained about the Board’s “social engineering.” His anti-social engineering refuses to recognize that children have differences of all kinds and these differences don’t all fit on a test. We must not permit this Governor and legislature to get away with further diminishing the power of the people over the education of our children.
As a Green Party candidate for State Board of Education, my top three priorities are to develop community involvement—not corporate ownership—in schools; to support wrap-around services not “high-stakes testing;” and to restore democracy and the election by the people of their own school boards. All schools should be “choice” and be in and the community center of the neighborhoods of the children they are to serve, as they once were. Children should profit from the investment of our tax dollars and be the dividends we receive as a society.
The most pressing issue is the return of the School Reform and Redesign Office to the State Board of Education so it can fully perform its Michigan 1908 and 1963 Constitutional mandates. That Board is to be “the planning and coordinating body for all public education”and to “advise the legislature as to the financial requirements.” School reform can require accountability and transparency of for-profit charter schools, if they continue to be permitted, and Redesign can promote best practices and the innovation that the charter schools claimed they were formed to do; there is no reason why such innovation could not be done in the schools that existed.
The Board’s expertise, including as to necessary financial support of education, is valuable. Governors were made non-voting members for good reason, as has shown to be valid in the past two decades, sending our schools down to the bottom of the list in the U.S.
I was an involved parent as my daughter went through Ferndale Public Schools. For the past 2 years, I’ve done much—and learned much—volunteering in Detroit schools and using both degrees: in education and in law. And I have attended meetings of the very board I wish to be on as well as meetings of the Detroit School Board “in exile,” and those of at least three other districts.
Sherry A. Wells, Candidate
State Board of Education 2014 and 2016