The privatization of public education in Michigan is a "very real" possibility, a state lawmaker said Monday, the Kalamazoo Gazette reports.
At a town hall forum in Kalamazoo, Democratic state Sen. Bert Johnson said the movement is being driven "by money" at a time when the state's districts face a $300-per-student budget cut -- a total of almost $500 million across the state.
In another attempt to account for the funding shortfall, Michigan's Republican lawmakers proposed last month legislation that would expand charter schools and privatize teacher hirings by employing from for-profit companies. Contracting with private teachers could encourage competitive compensation packages among teachers unions and private companies.
The legislation was introduced by Republican state Sen. Phil Pavlov, who chairs the state Senate's education committee.
The state already outsources much of its public schools' noneducational operations. Nearly half of Michigan's school districts already contract out for one of three noninstructional services of custodial, dining and transportation, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's 2010 School Privatization Survey. And schools are expecting major savings for doing so. A 6,000-student district is expecting to save over $3.5 million over 30 months by contracting out custodial services, according to the Mackinac Center.
There is also a likelihood that the Republican push for privatization could pass through the state legislature, as there is a two-thirds GOP majority in the state Senate and a 63-47 majority in the state House of Representatives.
A poll of 800 voters commissioned by the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, revealed that over 68 percent are against privatizing teaching services, according to the Livingston Daily.
"What's especially troubling is the proposal to outsource teaching to private, for-profit corporations. This will undermine local control, mean less accountability in the classroom, and gut public education at a time when we should be focused on investing in our kids' future and creating good jobs that pay a fair wage," We Are the People Michigan spokesman Zack Pohl told the Livingston Daily. We Are the People Michigan is a pro-education and pro-union organization.
But Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael Rice said at the town hall forum Monday that statewide surveys indicate residents still support "appropriate funding of pre-K-12 education" and not the the recent slashes to public schools' budgets, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette.
He also noted that districts should be permitted to solicit voters for an increase in local taxes to cover educational expenses if the state won't provide "adequate and stable" school funding.