Education community roundly pans Snyder’s secret ‘skunk works’ group

Members of the education community are roundly panning Gov. Snyder’s secret “skunk works” voucher workgroup.

As outrage continues to spread throughout the education community, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan announced Wednesday he is taking over the previously secret education “reform” taskforce established by the Snyder administration and a Mackinac Center official.

Members of Snyder’s administration had been holding secret nighttime meetings with corporations to develop a school voucher plan for Michigan. The group, dubbed “skunk works,” purposefully excluded educators from the discussion in favor of benefitting the information technology corporations that would profit from the scheme.

Earlier this week, Flanagan pulled his staff from the workgroup after realizing its controversial agenda to develop “value schools,” which would replace traditional public schools with a voucher system.

As MEA President Steve Cook explained: “Their goal to create so-called ‘value schools’ would spend less than half what we currently spend to educate a student, putting those remaining meager funds on debit cards for parents and students to purchase their learning – not unlike food stamps. Such schools would use long-distance video conferencing instead of qualified, professional teachers working with students.”

Flanagan said in a statement released Wednesday that he will take over the project under three conditions: 1. “It will not be a discussion of school vouchers”; 2. “Any savings that may be realized from the use of technology will be reinvested back into the schools”; and 3. “That this is a transparent process.”

Despite Flanagan’s insistence that the group not discuss vouchers, Snyder said Tuesday in a virtual town hall meeting that the group’s ideas — which are based around vouchers —are “pretty good” and “pretty cool.”

While Snyder denies labeling the group as secretive, the group had strategically communicated through private email addresses as opposed to government-issued email.

The Detroit Free Press opined that the group is “disrespectful of the voters who sent Snyder to Lansing. And it’s disrespectful of the parents, teachers and students who depend on our public education system.”

Of course, Snyder has claimed the group has no secret agenda — just like so-called “right-to-work” was not on his “agenda.”

Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, disagrees. He told the Detroit Free Press that skunk works’ agenda is “to repackage school vouchers so that millions of dollars could be funneled directly into the pockets of private interests.”

The suspicious exclusion of educators and teachers from the group further supports the fact that private interests are being made a top priority over education.

The skunk works group “is focused on lowering education’s price tag rather than on building a quality system for all students,” William Mayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, told the Detroit Free Press.

Diverse voices from across Michigan are speaking out, saying the discussion of education reform should always take place in public — where everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

“If the governor’s ideas are good, then they’re good enough to be discussed openly and publicly,” House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, told Gongwer. “Shrouding education reform in secrecy and excluding parents and teachers from the ‘skunk works’ group stinks.” 

Zack Pohl, executive director of citizens’ watchdog group Progress Michigan, said: “It’s time for Governor Snyder to live up to his campaign promise of more transparency in state government. The citizens of Michigan deserve full disclosure of any and all taxpayer dollars that were spent on this secret voucher group. If the governor believes his staff has done nothing improper, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t publicly release all documents related to this project — including staff time and emails exchanged during normal business hours. Citizens deserve a more honest and open government, not more excuses from Lansing politicians.”

MEA members are encouraged to share their thoughts about skunk works at MEA’s “Voices from the Front Lines” website.