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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Virtually Political

The story today is the campaign by little tykes to expand the Virtual Charter Schools. I’m all for political theatre, but this seems a bit odd. Supporters of expanded access brought along  current students to read the names — 5,000 — of those who wanted to get in.

The staging is bit unusual. Were  a teacher at a general school to bring a bunch of middle school students to lobby for expanded teacher pay the howls of outrage would mount up, at least if the Mackinac Center’s howl a few years ago is any indication. So far on this? Virtual crickets.

What’s going on? Unintentionally or not, the image (and the protest) reveal more about our Virtual Charter. First the mobilization of the students to expand the school program is ethically questionable, particularly in the context of for-profit management systems. the students may think they are doing civic duty or politics, but they are actually in the business of sales. The questions about profit motive of the management of these schools, let alone the oversight of their curriculum — these all gain added currency because of this stunt.

But the second issue is perhaps the more interesting. Look at the picture: the image of students, younger sibs and moms in the background at the very least speak in the visual language of home school, if not the substance. This aspect of the program has been played down in Michigan discussions on the west side. When the measure went through the State Senate, MLive led with this human interest story:

LANSING – Critics of “cyber” charter schools said Wednesday there’s not enough information to determine whether the schools are successful, but Steve Slisko pointed to his grandson.
The boy has cognitive impairments that prohibit him from speaking, but he can work a keyboard – and attend the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, one of two virtual charter schools in the state.

Yet the home school subtext tends to be right there, as  the MVCA site states,

Michigan Virtual Charter Academy is redefining traditional home schooling, but not within the home school network.

A Fox-17 report this past November further bears this out.

Michigan joins a number of other states with similar programs and impacts, including Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

However, one would be mistaken to think that such State support is necessarily a welcome move on the part of home schoolers. After all, the heart of the home school approach is a philosophic commitment about the appropriate locale for the education of one’s children. From within the movement, this development threatens to undo three decades of legal wrangling for recognition.

(The Home School Legal Defense Association) believes that a distinction between virtual charter schools and homeschooling is vital. While charter schools provide parents with another choice, we emphasize that they are still public schools in every sense of the word.
HSLDA also strongly cautions homeschoolers against enrolling in virtual charter schools. Many homeschoolers are seduced by attractive marketing and forget that virtual charter schools are actually controlled by the public school system. HSLDA does not represent students enrolled in full-time charter school programs.
HSLDA is also concerned that virtual charter schools will negatively impact the public and American lawmakers’ understanding of what it means to homeschool.

Agree or not, home schoolers have pushed their cause, and in their own way expanded both public speech and options in our education. The irony now, is that Republicans will subvert the home school movement with the virtual charter, much the same way that a decade ago the physical charter gutted the parochial schools. While the left believes that such charters will weaken the efforts of general schools, the likelihood is that the expanded virtual charter will instead weaken the home school movement generally, all for one obvious reason. It’s free.

Filed under: Education Policy, Michigan, Politics, , , , , ,

Rough Road

On the road to Michigan’s future, the ride for the poor is about to become a little rougher. Not to mention quite a bit more muddled.

The Governor’s proposal to eliminate Michigan’s EITC appears to make an initial sort of sense.  After all, in its monetary sense, the program simply represents one of the larger claims on the state budget. So if you are looking for money, this is one of the pots one goes to. No question about it. Moreover, the existing federal program maintains many of the desirable policy goals, so while State cuts the  budget affect the generosity, that does not mean the working poor are thereby abandoned or unrewarded.

So what does that extra $432 (on average) do for the working poor? According to research it goes for such things as childcare, the payment of a past due utility bill, or setting up a “rainy day” fund — a thin cushion, in other words, against the shocks of life.

Welfare by another name?

Some believe that cushion should not be there at all. Dan Calabrese figures that with the robust job market being what it is, the working poor should just go and get another job. Others are more judicious. Take Gary Wolfram and the Mackinac Center: the MiEITC is an income transfer pure and simple.  Scraping this a little more we can also see that framed this way, their approach comes close to the basic push them back to misery. However minimalist approaches breed their own externalities. And it’s not as if the EITC were a pure grant at all.

Some of this Conservative Confusion lies in misunderstanding the  tax code itself. As David Waymire points out,  the poor are subject to a cluster of regressive taxes, from millage to sales tax in addition to the federal, state and FICA payroll taxes. The money for these taxes comes directly out of an already stretched household budgets.

Even though MiEITC gets counted in federal Maintenance of Effort for welfare programming (this being Wolfram’s point), its real benefit and the questions for the Snyder administration lie elsewhere.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Michigan, , , , , , ,

Just how green is that grass?

Saturday, Michael LaFaive signed up once more for the “Grass is Greener Club” in the Grand Rapids Press. We’ve seen it before –the  idea is pretty much the same: some state is outperforming Michigan on some standard, and only if we emulate that other state then we, too, will out perform.  Invariably our problem is that we are not somehow Oklahoma, Florida, Mississippi, or in this case, Texas.

The narrative is also inevitably  wrong.

To fall for the reasoning of “if only we had…” invariably places policy choices in a reactive setting. Strategically, this is bad reasoning, since it means that state action must invariably follow in someone else’s footsteps.  We surrender control of our destiny.  The second flaw is political: it teaches a politics of despair.   It is at the end, a moralistic argument: if only we did x, then we would be blessed.  Of course there is a long tradition of such jeremiads, particularly from the Right, particularly looking nostalgically (or this case, over the fence) to some other, imagined eden.

LaFaive is much more concrete.  His hook is the comparison of population loss in Michigan compared with the significant increase in Texas.    There’s no doubt the numbers are big and troubling – and costing our state at least one seat in Congress. And the reason?  Sunshine, no unions and lower taxes.  Economic virtue is rewarded, plus you get a beetter tan.  The evidence however points to a more complex answer.

Texas. Really?

LaFaive cites  the ALEC Competitiveness Index:  Michigan is at 34 while bastion of economic freedom, Texas is at 10. Of course, that was for the 2009 data. The 2010 report gives a different picture: Michigan now at 26, middle of the pack, and Texas at 19. So what happened?  Did our Texas suddenly fall on its sword?  Did Michigan suddenly acquire economic religion?

LaFaive goes on to admit that total net Michigan to Texas over the past decade may be as high 80,000 (we’re being generous), however with a job loss even add in the 68,000 net moves to Florida, and we’re still left with 400,000 moves unaccounted for.

With numbers like this, the claim that this is the result of a poor tax code or some other failure in the state’s economics.  Obviously, there is more at work. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, , , ,

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