John Austin is president of the state Board of Education. Austin, D-Ann Arbor, was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2008. He is director of the Michigan Economic Center at Prima Civitas Foundation.
By John Austin
I am saddened and chagrined that Governor Snyder is giving the keys to the state’s car over to the ideologically driven right wing of his party. Acquiescing to right-to-work legislation and empowering a right-wing education reform agenda threatens to damage both education and a Michigan economy that needs to run on talented, highly-educated people.
“Right-to-work” has little to do with improving Michigan’s economic prospects, and everything to do with disabling Michigan unions, including its largest, the teachers union. None of the states we most want to emulate, where well educated people earn their money the old fashioned way (they earn it in the private sector) are right-to-work states.
Of the top ten states in private-sector personal incomes (that aren’t oil and gas rich like Wyoming), none are right to work states. But they are the best educated, including: Massachusetts (39.5% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher), Colorado (36.4%), New York (32.5%), Minnesota (31.8%) and Illinois (30.7%). Compare that to Michigan’s 24.6% bachelor’s attainment rate.
Are our kids fleeing Michigan for Indiana because it is now “right-to-work”? No, they are going to Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, and Denver because they have a better chance to take their talents (and too often their Michigan education) and either create, or take a job for themselves.
While we are signaling in Michigan that we don’t value our workers and our teachers, and competing with right-to-work states like Alabama and Mississippi to be the “low-cost” producer, other states are eating our lunch by building a knowledge economy, and employing Michigan’s talent to do so.
The Governor is also empowering Richard Mcllellan (who last brought us the 2000 school voucher plan) to float radical education “reform” trial balloons that would facilitate a new competitive marketplace for education, with lots of on-line and for-profit education providers replacing our public schools (and their unionized teachers), without concern for educational quality, or the financial impact on our already struggling neighborhood schools.
So, as with right-to-work, we are picking a fight, and demoralizing the very people we need to lift up, better support, and help to improve education: “the workers” — our teachers and educators, who feel like the rug is being pulled out from under them, again.
I expected better of a moderate governor, committed to reinventing Michigan, and avoiding debilitating food fights that could, as in Wisconsin and Ohio recently, distract us from improving education, and our economy.
It’s not too late to take back the wheel.