Sunday’s editorial in The Press began well enough, unpacking the proposed structural changes to the States public schools. Even from the cursory comments, it is clear these will be substantive. Then in something of a Parthian shot, the editorial turned to the Democratic response, noting
Democrats already are attacking the plan, with Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, calling it a “voucher plan that would end public schools as we know them.”
But for too many Michigan students, the public schools they know are failing them.
The difficulty is that the last and righteous statement, that we are failing our students now, does not negate Whitmer’s substantive point.
If this reform is about traditional public school districts, how they are funded, which students they should accept, then how is Sen Whitmer wrong saying that it “will end public schools as we know them?” Substantively, her concern is correct: the Governor is looking at a plan that will in fact alter the public schools substantially. With the opt-out provisions, it becomes a program of a two tier system. Forest Hills and Rockford get one kind of (traditional) plan, Kentwood and Northview something quite different.
As the recent discussions around the closing of Creston revealed, the schools can not simply be disaggregated into a collection of individuals or families (the anytime anyplace fallacy), but also function as important pieces of our social and economic fabric, linchpins for neighborhoods and communities.
The consideration of this social dimension will be one if not the central battleground on this so-called school reform proposal. The underlying question is to whom do the schools belong: are they merely to be considered as a instrument of the State, a deliverer of (social) services? or as expressions of particular communities and so accountable to those communities? This is the heart of the conflict.