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Report: Work Group Developing Low-Cost Schools

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DETROIT (AP) - A newspaper report says that a work group has been meeting in secret to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education, and that top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder are involved.

The Detroit News, citing meeting minutes and reports, said the model has a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers. The documents say the aim is to create a “value school” that costs $5,000 per child annually to operate.

The Republican governor confirmed the existence of the work group Thursday, but told the newspaper that “there is not a specific outcome” for the project. Snyder spokesman Kurt Weiss said the group was focusing on how to get technology into classrooms, not vouchers. He also said Michigan’s chief information officer, David Behen, was involved.

“The assumption or suggestion that this was a secret group is not accurate,” Weiss told The Associated Press. “Was it a public group? No. It was one of (Behen’s) brainstorming groups that he pulled together.”

The records show that Bay Mills Community College could open a technology-centric charter school by August 2014. Other proposals found in the records include using fewer teachers and increasing instruction by using long-distance video conferencing.

Students at the “value schools” would be given a “Michigan Education Card” to pay for their tuition, akin to electronic benefits transfer used by low-income families for food stamps and cash assistance. Leftover money on the cards could be used to pay for things like Advanced Placement Courses and sports team fees.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing criticized the plan, saying it would allow corporate interests to make millions of dollars off of the state’s public school system with no regard to the impact it will have on the quality of education.

“The information uncovered from these secretive meetings has confirmed what we’ve feared all along, that this governor’s focus is not on what’s best for Michigan’s people or our kids, but instead on helping out-of-state special interests profit off of them,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, which represents more than 157,000 Michigan teachers, faculty and staff, called the work group “disturbing and infuriating.”

“This is a direct attempt to undermine elected school boards, principals and school employees, and it’s a slap in the face to teachers and education support professionals, who work tirelessly to educate our children every day,” he said in a statement.

Snyder has laid out major changes to Michigan’s public education system before. Under a draft bill released last year by the Oxford Foundation-Michigan, a nonprofit Snyder commissioned to come up with a new education funding model, public school students would be able to attend state-funded classes in any school district and even online. The plan would also allow per-pupil funding to follow students in any district willing to accept them.

A final bill has not yet been submitted to Snyder. The Oxford Foundation’s director and Lansing lawyer, Richard McLellan, is one of the members of the “value school” work group.

The governor is hosting an Education Summit on Monday in East Lansing. The administration says the summit will build off the themes of last month’s Economic Summit, which focused on boosting job growth and encouraging recent college graduates to stay close to home.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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