Education Reform

Though remarkable progress was made in this area during Governor Engler's first term, much work remains to be done. The ultimate goal of reform ought to be full educational choice, a system that does not limit choice only to government schools bound by archaic methods and rules. We must infuse marketplace virtues into the provision of education in our state: parental choice, diversity, competition, accountability, cost containment, decentralization, and entrepreneurial opportunities for parents, teachers, and administrators.

The Governor should pursue the following:

  1. Cross-district public school choice. The recently enacted, state-guaranteed, per-pupil foundation grant has the perverse effect of reducing what little choice existed within the public system. Since all school aid is consolidated into the foundation grant, districts have a powerful new incentive to deny student transfer requests. Parents who want to send their children to a public school that has both the physical room and the willingness to accept their children should be allowed to do so automatically-without having to secure the approval of the home district school board.

  2. Relaxation of tenure and certification requirements. Schools should be free to develop their own tenure and seniority systems (in place of the existing, statewide Teacher Tenure Act), or to adopt employment-at-will arrangements with their teachers. This will free schools to reward teachers on the basis of merit. Michigan should follow the lead of New Jersey and relax its teacher certification requirements, giving school administrators greater freedom to hire people they regard as both knowledgeable and effective in the classroom. Related to these matters is the question of compulsory collective bargaining: the Governor should call for exempting teachers from the Public Employment Relations Act.

  3. Repeal of Article VIII, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution. This anachronism unduly restricts genuine education reform, as demonstrated dramatically by a recent court decision invalidating Michigan's charter school law. We applaud the Governor for pursuing an appeal of that ruling, and we cautiously endorse changing the law to meet the court's objections without adding substantial new controls over charter schools. We are skeptical, however, that anything short of repeal of Article VIII, Section 2 can produce the kind of liberated environment necessary for an educational renaissance. Once rid of this constitutional albatross, the Governor should press for a system of tuition tax credits (including a refundable tax credit for low income parents) that will open the education monopoly up to comprehensive competition and parental choice.

  4. A comprehensive review of the Michigan School Code. Every rule, regulation, standard, and procedure governing the schools must be put on the table for review and justification. The goal here would be to liberate teachers and their schools form strictures that stifle their creativity and effectiveness.

  5. Abolition of the state Department of Education. Does Michigan really need a Department of Education that, one year ago, had three employees for every one school superintendent in the state? Does anyone honestly believe that Michigan students are better educated today than they were before the department was created 29 years ago?

Since 1965, when the Department of Education was established, its budget has risen by more than 3,000 percent. Over that same time period, inflation was less than 340 percent and the K-12 student population actually declined by more than 23 percent! Abolishing the department and transferring its function as a pass-through agency for federal funds to the Department of Management and Budget would not only save money but would send a powerful message as well: though the state provides funding, the management of our state's schools belongs at the local level.