This week on It’s Just Politics, we delve into a secret project dubbed “skunk works.” The name means a project done in secret, usually to get something complex or controversial done quickly, without getting mucked up in organizational bureaucracy.
Skunkworks: A History
The name is actually trademarked by the Lockheed Martin Corporation. Lockheed’s Skunk Works was created to handle aircraft projects that needed to be wrapped up quickly during World War II. Now, jump ahead almost 70 years, and it was revealed last week by The Detroit News that Michigan has recently had its own skunk works project. But this time: education rather than aircrafts.
Skunkworks Closer to Home
The group involved members of Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and was led by Richard McLellan, a well-known attorney in Lansing known as a Republican deal-maker and conjurer of political plots.
Governor Snyder had already asked McLellan to devise a plan to revamp Michigan’s school funding system. But Skunkworks was a separate operation. This plan was to create a string of low-cost charter schools authorized by a tribal community college with statewide reach. The group involved in the plan did not include the education lobby – teachers’ unions, administrators and school boards.
McLellan was the one who tagged the project “skunk works" (a name we’re pretty sure he has come to regret) and in an email that was leaked to The Detroit News, he details what the project was about. Education lobbyists saw this as a plot to undercut them and create a new pipeline of charters competing for school funding. These schools would be middle and high schools, something that would be ground-breaking as charter operators typically don’t run middle and high schools. That’s because they tend to be more expensive than elementary schools (they have to pay for things like chemistry labs and big gyms).
Education Lobby None Too Pleased
When the Lansing education lobby found about this – they cried foul at not being part of the discussions, especially ones involving people so close to the governor. One of Governor Snyder’s political brands has always been the ‘hands-on CEO” so, it’s interesting to note that the governor distanced himself from the group pretty quickly after it was made public.