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May 29, 2013

State reps, educators bash cuts to education

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

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Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland Schools, gives a presentation May 22 during an education-focused town hall meeting at the Royal Oak Public Library. She said recent education reforms have left many public schools with the poorest and most-challenged students.

ROYAL OAK — When it comes to public good, the local and state leaders who showed up at an education-focused town hall meeting May 22 say market-oriented competition is not a good thing.

Vickie Markavitch, the superintendent of Oakland Schools — referring to Schools of Choice, charters and online schools — said it makes no sense for a school that has figured out a good way to educate to withhold the information for the sake of drawing more students. She compared it to a local fire department learning a new, effective way to put out fires and then keeping it secret from a neighboring community for the sake of competition.

“It makes no sense when you are talking about the public good,” Markavitch said.

State Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak, hosted the event inside the Royal Oak Public Library, aiming to update constituents on the latest news on education from Lansing.

“Public education has been a hot topic in the state of Michigan for the last few years,” he said before introducing the speakers.

In addition to Markavitch, state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, and President of the State Board of Education John Austin spoke.

In attendance were other local educators, ranging from teachers to superintendents, including Royal Oak Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin.

Lakin admonished the cuts to education.

“Because of budget decisions that have been made over the last four years, your school has had to operate on $4 million less,” he said from the audience.

Austin said that Michigan was the state that created the public education system, and now budget cuts to college education are making it harder for middle-class families to send their children to college. He said Michigan residents must “reanimate” the commitment to providing a college education.

“We’re pricing (public universities) out of the reach of middle-class families,” Austin said. “And that’s not a path to success.”

Markavitch focused mostly on why she considers competition in education to be the wrong path to improving student performance. She said choice has left many public schools with the highest concentration of the poorest and most-challenged students.

“The problem is our whole reform model in Michigan rests on who has the gas money to drive away, not on how do we fix what’s there,” she said.

“So, yes, we have a problem,” she concluded. “But it’s not the problem that’s been framed for you by some of the rhetoric going on in this state.”

Ted O’Neil, the media relations manager for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said school choice increases parental participation, which is something educators have always wanted.

“You hear a lot of people in the education circle talk about how important parental involvement is,” he said in a May 23 phone interview with the Review. “And then when you bring up the ultimate in parental involvement, the parent actually getting to pick what school they think would provide the best education, you get a lot of blowback on that.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.