As part of the vast efforts to undermine the results of November’s election, the Michigan House of Representatives is looking at preventing education from falling into Democrats’ hands when the party takes over every statewide elected office, including the state Board of Education, in January.
In the final days of Michigan’s Republican administration, bills under consideration would establish a commission with broad powers over schools. This “shadow Board of Education” would not be accountable to the elected Board of Education (which will also flip to Democratic control), the Department of Education or the incoming governor.
This is one among several measures to limit the power of incoming Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) and her administration.
And the sponsor of the legislation is not exactly hiding the intent. State representative Tim Kelly (R) explicitly argues for removing power from the elected Board of Education and Department of Education to combat “failing schools.”
“The state board is not doing their jobs,” said Kelly. “It’s time to move forward.”
Kelly has tried and failed to outright eliminate the elected Michigan Board of Education in the past.
The new board, which would take action without accountability to the leaders chosen by voters — including those voters specifically wanted to oversee education — would have impact on what schools to close and how much instruction students could be given.
Republicans are also trying to exempt some districts from state regulations altogether. Called “public innovation districts,” these wouldn’t have to comply with mandated hours of instruction.
The 13-member Education Accountability Policy Commission would also be able to afford these innovation districts with more freedom to ignore education policy.
“These bills basically strip the next governor of the ability to reform education,” a person involved with the negotiations told Center for Michigan’s Bridge on the condition of anonymity. “That’s why we’re jumping up and down over this. It’s such a complete power steal from Whitmer that no one should be participating in this.”
At least one current board member has promised to sue should the legislation be enacted, according to Bridge, and Whitmer has voiced objection as well.
“The Governor-elect remains steadfast in her commitment to ensuring every Michigan child has access to high quality education, and opposes any actions that would impede her authority to address those issues starting Jan. 1,” stated Michelle Grinnell, communications manager for Whitmer’s transition team.
Outgoing Governor Rick Snyder (R) has expressed his intention to stack the commission before he leaves, locking Whitmer out of meaningful education reform.
“The governor is the governor until the end of the year. It’s a commission that is being formed on an issue on which he’s been working for years,” said Ari Alder, Snyder’s director of communications.
Michigan is the home state of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.