Right to Work paved way for new education funding proposal


Tell me your zip code and I’ll tell you what kind of an education you received, said former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an interview last winter with Grand Rapids Business Journal editors. “The No. 1 national security and economic issue for America is education.”

Real change that would reverse the nation’s continued education failure has been elusive at best, and more akin to changing the direction of a group of charging lemmings. The Paris-based Organization for Cooperation and Development, an organization of 30 nations, annually posts education gains in each country. News reports of the 2009 rankings showed the U.S. ranked ninth in population of those having at least a high school degree. It ranked seventh in the share of people who hold a college degree.

That’s the kind of challenge Gov. Rick Snyder likes. The change in Michigan began last week and is very likely to be rapid. The governor expects to have the Michigan Public Education Finance project proposal represented in his budget next month, and anticipates implementing whole-scale change in October 2013. He already has an assist from State Rep Lisa Posthumous Lyons, R-Alto, as head of the House Education Committee.

That is why the Right to Work (aka Freedom to Work) legislation was necessary in a lame duck session within a two-day period. The Michigan Education Association is now tamed. Presumably, as the money follows the student, so, too, will teachers unencumbered by union agreements. The Business Journal anticipates that neighboring states Wisconsin and Indiana are likely to see similar action from their Republican governors, who have been in the same league with Snyder on issues like Right to Work.

Richard D. McLellan is Snyder’s education advisor and unveiled the broader points of the new financial plan to Lansing and Grand Rapids business executives last Wednesday and Thursday, sponsored by the West Michigan Policy Forum and Talent 2025. McLellan is an attorney who co-founded the Mackinac Center and long involved in education issues including his avid support of allowing parents to choose the kind of education their child receives. He helped draft the Kids First Yes! ballot proposal that would have allowed school vouchers for students in “failing” districts. Former gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos has long been a proponent of the voucher system.

McLellan made clear he was in Grand Rapids to address the business community. “Not one business person has asked me about this (in the time work has been underway). This is your future work force,” he said. “The business community has to be involved in this.”

Talent 2025, a group of more than 60 business leaders representing every business sector in 13 West Michigan counties, also made that point. “Only when employers assume full accountability for the talent supply chain and require outcomes that align with business and economic needs of the region will the system begin to move in a direction of sustainability.”

Full details of the new Michigan Public Education Finance plan are not yet completely revealed, nor does the current format make any recommendation in regard to special-needs students. The dramatic rollout at year-end certainly signals Snyder intends fast action. The Business Journal encourages full disclosure and answers to the questions of the parents of special-needs children. Rather than the methods used to pass Right to Work, full hearings are required.

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