Michigan ‘secret work group’ trying to create a tech-based, voucher supported school

Apr 20, 2013 by

LANSING, Mich. – Before Rick Snyder was elected Michigan’s governor in 2010, he worked as a high-ranking official with the Gateway computer company.

So it’s not too surprising that he is reportedly involved with a group that’s attempting to create a technology-based school that can educate children for 30 percent less than a traditional public school.

Snyder has also been open about his support for school choice, so it’s not surprising that tuition for the new school might be paid with state vouchers.

The Detroit News reports that a “secret work group” – comprised of Snyder aides, the state’s chief technology officer, employees from several software and tech companies and a business leader – is exploring ways to educate students using long-distance video conferencing and other technological advances.

The group has been meeting since last December, with the goal of creating a “value school” that can educate a student for $5,000, roughly 30 percent less than the $7,000 per-pupil grant the state pays to regular schools.

The nearly 20 individuals who comprise the “secret group” use private email accounts (which aren’t subjected to open records laws) and meet mostly after-hours, typically on Friday evenings and Saturdays, The Detroit News reports.

Since the group’s mission is not considered an official government project, there’s nothing illegal with the members’ attempts for secrecy.

Details of the group’s mission were discovered through documents obtained by the newspaper.

School vouchers appear to be central to the group’s “value school” concept.

According to The Detroit News, “Each ‘value school’ student would receive a ‘Michigan Education Card’ to pay for their ‘tuition’ – similar to the electronic benefits transfer used to distribute food stamps and cash assistance to the poor.

“Students could use leftover money on the ‘EduCard’ for high school Advanced Placement courses, music lessons, sport team fees, remedial education or cyber courses, according to an outline of the advisory team’s agenda,” the newspaper reports.

There’s one major glitch: Michigan’s Constitution has iron-clad language prohibiting the use of tax dollars at private or religious schools. There’s been no indication how the work group would handle that seemingly immovable roadblock, assuming the new school would be private and not a public charter school.

But that won’t be the only controversy surrounding the group, as news of its existence is made known.

Snyder will doubtlessly be criticized for not including educators in the attempt to the craft a new type of school.

But a memo from the group explains the reasoning: Education consultants were not invited to participate because they “are so wedded to the education establishment that pays their bills and to the existing paradigm that an outside team of creative thinkers has a much better chance of succeeding.”

via Michigan ‘secret work group’ trying to create a tech-based, voucher supported school – EAGnews.org :: Education Research, Reporting, Analysis and Commentary.

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